Much has changed since the Industrial Truck Association (ITA) created National Forklift Safety Day 10 years ago. The volume of e-commerce orders and shipments soared; tariffs on imports from China, interest rates, and inflation rose; the use of material handling automation and robotics exploded; and a global pandemic transformed workforce demographics and availability, leading to a turnover crisis among warehouse workers. Against this challenging backdrop, the safe use of forklifts and proper operator and pedestrian training is more important than ever, according to speakers at the 10th annual National Forklift Safety Day program, held June 13 in Washington, D.C.
A panel of government and industry experts was moderated by ITA President Brian Feehan. The following are some highlights of panelists’ presentations.
National Forklift Safety Day Chair Chuck Pascarelli, President, Americas, Hyster-Yale Group and Chair of ITA’s Board of Directors, noted that North American manufacturers sold more than 340,000 units in 2022, slightly below the record sales seen in 2021. Add in the existing product base, and the economic importance of forklifts becomes clear, he said. That, together with the proliferation of new operators and a changing workforce, “makes training even more important” and means that “our approach to safety must be rigorous.”
Douglas Parker, Assistant Secretary of Labor and head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), provided an overview of some current initiatives:
Michael Wood, Senior Vice President for Quality, Health, Safety, and Environment, TEAM Industrial Services, explained the key elements of a safety culture and offered practical tips on implementation:
Using his company’s Yale Reliant operator-assist technology as an example, Ed Stilwell, Innovation Chief Technologist, Hyster-Yale Group, described an effective process for understanding the specific problems to be solved before adopting safety-enhancing technology. The company formed a dedicated “listening” team to identify customers’ challenges. Based on what they found, the team engaged in “question storming”—brainstorming dozens of relevant questions, such as how experienced and inexperienced operators’ practices differ, how to improve safety without compromising productivity, and whether it is important for the operator to always maintain control of the truck. Each team member set out to answer a few questions and returned in a few days; the ensuing discussions identified common themes and problems as well as possible ways to address them.
The resulting system incorporates three pillars: dynamic stability (adjusts tractive and hydraulic speed and acceleration); object detection (slows the truck if objects are in the path of travel); and proximity detection (slows the truck relative to other trucks, pedestrians, and defined zones beyond the line of sight). After getting customer feedback on their ideas, the team defined requirements and constraints. Ultimately, they determined that: the operator must remain in control of the truck; the dynamic stability system should set the maximum allowable speed, acceleration, and performance limits; slowing the truck is an effective way to alert the operator to a problem; and it is necessary to show operators what the problem is via dynamic feedback on a visual display.
ITA represents manufacturers of industrial trucks and suppliers of component parts and accessories that conduct business in North America. The organization promotes standards development, advances engineering and safety practices, disseminates statistical information, and holds industry forums.