Each year, speakers at the annual National Forklift Safety Day program put on by the Industrial Truck Association (ITA) discuss critical safety-related topics, including the importance of training operators and pedestrians who work around powered industrial trucks (PITs). This year’s event, the ninth, was especially timely in light of the ongoing challenges of hiring, training, and retaining warehouse and manufacturing labor. As several speakers noted, high rates of employee turnover, uncertainty associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, and supply chain bottlenecks have all had an impact on facility safety.
Some highlights from the June 14, 2022, program include:
ITA President Brian Feehan and Chuck Pascarelli, ITA Board of Directors Chair and President, Americas, Hyster-Yale Group, opened with remarks on the industry’s ongoing commitment to forklift safety and ITA members’ leadership in this area. Pascarelli emphasized three important reasons to pay special attention to forklift safety: compliance with laws and regulations; the fact that safe operations make good business sense; and the responsibility of employers to support their employees’ well-being and provide a safe working environment.
Douglas Parker, Assistant Secretary of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), lauded the industrial truck industry for designing equipment and using technology like telematics and automation to enhance workers’ safety. As technology advances, he added, it’s a good time to re-examine safety training requirements and how people work around automation. He also cautioned that Covid-19—“the health and safety issue of our time”—is not over, and that employers must continue to diligently protect essential workers, many of whom work in industries forklift makers serve.
OSHA is paying special attention to preventing heat-related illness, injuries, and deaths—a problem that will likely worsen as climate change continues, Parker said. Heat is a hazard wherever PITs are used, including manufacturing plants and warehouses, not just outdoors, he noted. Under a heat “emphasis program,” OSHA inspectors will conduct proactive inspections for heat-related hazards and will advise employers on issues like rest, fluids, acclimation to heat, and training and monitoring of employees. Approximately 50% of heat fatalities happen in the first 10 days an employee is on the job, he said, adding that today’s high rates of employee turnover suggests the need for extra vigilance by employers.
Finally, Parker addressed the proposed update to OSHA’s 1910.178 PIT safety regulations to reference the latest versions of the B56 national consensus standards and replace the reference to the 1969 version of the standards, a move supported by ITA members. A formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) was issued in February, and the comment period closed in mid May. Parker said that OSHA will consider the 20-plus comments it received as it moves forward with the full rule-making process that is required by law when the agency updates references to national consensus standards that are incorporated into federal regulations.
Jonathan Dawley, National Forklift Safety Day Chair and President and CEO of Kion North America Corp., spoke about how ongoing labor challenges highlight the critical importance of training. Most facilities have new employees coming in who “may not have relevant experience,” he said. Moreover, supply chain issues and the resulting inventory imbalances can overwhelm environments where forklifts are in use. As a result, “variability has become the norm in manufacturing and distribution, and that creates challenges around the standard work” that is a key element of facility safety; simply put, “non-standard practices compromise safety,” he said. Dawley also emphasized that while labor shortages are leading more companies to turn to safety-enhancing technologies like telematics and collision-avoidance systems, it is critical to understand that “technology is not a substitute for building a safety culture.”
Indeed, with so many new employees and so much turnover, executing well on basics like forklift operator and pedestrian awareness training has become more important than ever, Dawley said. He also recommended a concerted focus on communicating safety best practices through such means as signage, town hall meetings, management regularly getting out in front of employees, one-on-one coaching, and tracking safety as a key performance indicator (KPI).
Lorne Weeter, vice president of sales, mobile automation, for Dematic, explained the differences among manually operated powered industrial trucks, automated guided forklifts (AGFs), automated guided vehicles (AGVs), and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). He then ran through the required elements for converting a lift truck to an AGF, such as a computer “brain” that processes information, laser scanners for collision avoidance, an on-board navigation system, emergency controls, and more. Weeter also noted that AMRs are subject to new design and manufacturing standards: RIA15.08, which is being developed for industrial mobile robots by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Association for Advancing Automation (formerly known as the Robotics Industry Association, or RIA), rather than the B56.5 standard that applies to AGVs and other mobile burden carriers.
Weeter finished up with recommendations for safety measures to consider when adding automation to an operation. Examples include a comprehensive site safety assessment, new safety protocols that specifically take automated vehicles into account (“An AGV can travel 400 feet per minute, so everyone needs to understand how to safely interact with them”), and extra attention to “pinch points”—locations where pedestrians and automated and manually operated vehicles may end up in the same narrow space.
Brian Duffy, Director of Corporate Environmental and Manufacturing Safety, Crown Equipment Corporation urged facility and fleet managers to review productivity standards and priorities for operators and pedestrians to ensure that they are not in conflict with safety. He also outlined the forklift and pedestrian safety program his company applies in its own manufacturing plants and warehouses. Duffy credits the program, which involves a 20-week process of training, communication, observation, and feedback, with contributing to a steady decline in safety incidents in Crown’s facilities. Some of the program elements he highlighted include:
Industrial Truck Association members manufacture over 90 percent of the forklifts and similar powered industrial trucks sold in North America. The organization promotes standards development, advances safe forklift design and use, disseminates statistical information, and holds industry forums.
A video of ITA’s National Forklift Safety Day presentation will be available at no charge online at www.indtrk.org and at www.dcvelocity.com. And click here to read all of DC Velocity’s special National Forklift Safety Day coverage and forklift safety articles.