With the Industrial Truck Association’s (ITA) National Forklift Safety Day program reaching its landmark 10th anniversary in 2023, it’s a fitting time to talk with ITA Chair Charles F. “Chuck” Pascarelli. Pascarelli, who is president of the Americas Division of Hyster-Yale Group Inc. (HYG), has been with HYG for about 10 years and has more than 15 years of experience in the material handling industry. In his current role, he oversees sales, marketing, manufacturing, finance, distribution, and pricing functions for the Hyster and Yale product lines as well as lift truck services, financial services, fleet management, national accounts, and dealer relations for the Americas.
Pascarelli joined the forklift industry in 2007 after 17 years working in printing, publishing, and information systems. One thing he enjoys most about the forklift world is the people. “From the corner office to the shop floor,” he says, “there are brilliant, talented individuals who innovate and go the extra mile every day.”
He also finds being a part of the forklift industry rewarding and is especially proud of the crucial role the material handling industry played during the Covid-19 pandemic. “We were at the epicenter of making sure our economy kept going during one of the bleakest moments in our country’s history,” he observes.
DC Velocity recently interviewed Pascarelli about how far forklift safety has come in the past decade and where he sees it heading in the future.
Q: Has forklift safety advanced since the first national forklift safety day was held in 2013?
A: When National Forklift Safety Day started, it was meant to help shine a spotlight and refocus attention on the importance of safety. Now NFSD is a fixture for the entire industry—OEMs, dealers, and end-users alike. A major focus is awareness—the importance for all parties involved to discuss and be aware of the safety expectations and needs for their specific application. This helps the industry determine which safety innovations to make available that can assist operators and reinforce best practices.
While the industry continues to evolve with new technologies and tools that can support forklift safety best practices, it’s important to note that certain fundamentals remain. Safety is not an event or an outcome; it’s a culture. Safety is part of everyone’s job, and it extends far beyond the operator compartment to include pedestrians. Not only that, effective operator training remains the bedrock of forklift safety, and over the past 10 years, the industry has worked to provide training tools and debut new innovations to help reinforce good habits for lift truck operators and help address the realities of lift truck operations. For example, many operations must scale up [their ranks of] lift truck operators due to turnover or seasonal upticks in demand. Training tools like videos can help them deliver consistent instruction on key topics across several classes without overburdening in-house training resources.
Another advance is virtual reality technology. Although not a replacement for on-truck training, virtual reality simulators can enable operators to practice lift truck operation in an immersive environment, which can provide valuable experience for operators without taking an actual lift truck out of service or risking damage to equipment or infrastructure. As younger generations who grew up playing video games and working with technology enter the workforce, these simulators offer a familiar format.
Q: Are there safety areas you think need further improvement or special attention from fleet operators?
A: Turnover is a major challenge facing lift truck operations. For some perspective, if you look at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on labor turnover in the warehouse, it’s been over 40% every year since 2017. Not only that, as e-commerce growth continues, businesses need more warehouses to serve demand, and those facilities need lift truck operators.
It’s important to note that just because an employee has operated a forklift before, it does not mean they have experience on the exact type or model of lift truck their job requires them to use. Operating a counterbalanced lift truck is a different proposition from operating a reach truck or order picker, and each requires a different training certification. And when a lift truck operator changes jobs and is asked to operate even the same model of forklift in a different work site, that operator will need additional training to understand the new rules of the road and recertification by the new employer. Telemetry systems can help by restricting truck access only to operators with the proper training, and the reporting on operator performance can help management identify high performers and those who may need additional training.
In addition to the training tools mentioned earlier, operator-assist technologies can help bolster operator and pedestrian awareness. Some common examples include truck-mounted lights that support pedestrian visibility of approaching lift trucks and audible alarms that warn nearby equipment operators and pedestrians when they are close to a truck in motion.
Q: Do you think safety-enhancing technology will play a bigger role in the future than it does now?
A: Technology continues to play a growing role in our industry. As our customers face challenges with labor turnover and onboarding new employees, it’s up to us to listen to them and help address those tough labor, safety, and productivity challenges with innovations in and around the lift truck.
I mentioned operator-assist solutions earlier. One example of innovating to help address those customer challenges is more advanced operator-assist technologies. Some lift truck manufacturers now offer solutions using detection technologies to monitor the surrounding environment and the combined status of the lift truck and load. If a potential problem is detected, these systems can adjust lift truck performance automatically, so that operators are alerted by feeling the truck respond and are informed of what’s happening and why, which helps to reinforce best practices. In addition to the surrounding environment, the system constantly monitors truck and load status to prioritize stability when implementing hydraulic and traction controls. In practice, this type of technology can provide warnings and assist with operator awareness by proactively reducing truck speed if it detects something in the monitored area, such as obstacles, other trucks, or pedestrians.
Q: Any forecasts for the next generation of forklift safety technology?
A: Businesses are constantly looking for tools that can help support safety efforts for all types of lift truck equipment. There’s a broad spectrum of technology available today for industrial trucks, from the basic lights and alarms referenced earlier, all the way to fully automated, robotic lift truck solutions.
As more technology solutions become available, educating the market on these new technologies and their practical application is critical. Fleet managers will have questions about commercial maturity and other criteria specific to their application as they vet whether something is right for their operation. Trade shows and other opportunities for in-person demonstrations are especially valuable for operations looking to find the right kind of technology solutions tailored for their needs.
Q: Given the growing availability of safety-enhancing technology, how can OEMs and authorized dealers continue to help their customers in this area?
A: By actively engaging in a dialogue around forklift safety. That includes getting details from customers on their recordable incidents and their biggest challenges, and working to find patterns and identify opportunities to address them. As our industry becomes more and more technology-driven, this dialogue is especially important to guide the development of solutions in a way that can best support those critical cultural and training elements that forklift safety requires.
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