An insight opinion by Malcolm Mitchell, Amvar Handling Solutions ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY? Then I’ll begin….

FORKLIFT OPERATOR COMFORT AND SAFETY An insight opinion by Malcolm Mitchell, Amvar Handling Solutions ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY? Then I’ll begin…. Arguably the most important part of a forklift or reach truck is the seat. Not just how comfortable, but how safe. It’s basically the starting position from which the design of a truck develops. Keeping the operator safe, happy and productive has to be the priority. 

Ergonomics – the science of refining products to optimise them for human use – is frequently referenced in forklift literature, strongly indicating its relative importance in overall truck operation and efficiency. It’s also known as ‘human factors engineering’ which is probably a more appropriate description in forklift trucks. Designers and engineers need to take into account more than simple optimisation aspects and ensure that operator health and wellbeing are prioritised. 
The job of operating a forklift essentially involves repeating functions to control movement and lifting, so therefore the design of the seat and cab need to minimise the strain caused by too many un-natural movements. Controls are consequently located and operated with minimal movement and effort. Control panels can be adjusted to suit the operator, and simple touch switches to lessen hand/wrist strains. Equally, vision and mirror positions are key to reducing turning and possible repetitive strain. When introducing new trucks into an operation it is very important that advice is provided on refinements to increase personalised comfort and safety elements. Trucks are designed for a wide variety of duties in all kinds of working environment. Having the trucks tailored to suit the operator and function is essential. 
Accidents concerning forklifts have thankfully declined over recent years and in fairness few involve truck design or function, as most involve an unrealistic (unsafe) operation or collision or most commonly a falling load. But designing fail-safes that prevent such things from happening is an area of focus in new truck development.
According to the Fork Lift Truck Association [FLTA] the most common cause of operator error resulting in accidents are; speeding, overloading, failing to use park brake properly, not using seatbelts, or not seeing people or hazards. Obviously continual training and instilling the highest safety standards would be best practice, but what can truck design offer? 
Making trucks comfortable and less tiring for operators reduces fatigue and helps to improve alertness and productivity – at the same time improving safety. But to ensure that trucks are operated responsibly it’s possible through pin code access to ensure that trucks are only driven by qualified personnel with up-to-date training approval. This kind of driver identification, allows trucks to be governed to operate at lower speeds or heights for novice or less experienced drivers.
As so many cases of accidents involve loads falling onto drivers, the cab itself will need driver protection features and tilt levelling capability to ensure forks are horizontal when selecting pallets, together with monitoring systems that support safety and responsible operating.
Technology already exists and is being further developed to collect and analyse data on truck movements and activities, including safety episodes so that safety improvements as well as productivity advances can be managed.
Given that so many un-necessary accidents involve collisions with pedestrians, innovation to prevent this continues to be a focus for designers and engineers. Features like personal or object distance sensors (similar to parking sensors in cars) which cause the vehicle to brake or to trigger alarms if too close are becoming more common, alongside more familiar lights (such as blue light system) and audible warnings.
It’s a sobering thought that today, possibly as you read this, there will be an accident involving a forklift somewhere in the UK. Inevitably its cost is human harm and that is the highest price of all, but there are also unnecessary economic consequences in business losses and legal claims and compensation. The task ahead is to achieve the goal of zero harm or accidents in all operational environments.

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