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Optimising forklift safety and efficiency | Part 2

Supplier: Remax Products
13 April, 2015

In this series of three articles we discuss how you can optimise forklift safety and efficiency for your business.

Since forklifts account for up to 30 per cent of workplace vehicle related accidents annually, it's pertinent to understand how you can ensure their safe operation whilst maintaining productivity. 

In part one we discussed equipment reliability, battery maintenance, seatbelt safety and the benefits of fleet management systems. However, there are still a number of ways to improve warehouse efficiency and safety.

Considerations for increased forklift safety and efficiency

Invest in training

Training is essential. Along with the enforcement of seat belts, all your operators should be taught to lean away from the point of impact in the event of tipping. If a forklift is falling to the left, the driver should lean towards the right, away from the ground.

This is an example of training and teaching that can be used to supplement the mechanical safety you have in place. It brings more understanding as to why a seatbelt is important and adds another layer of meaning for employees, so they know what else they can do to save their lives.

As discussed in part one, employing a fleet management system definitely has its perks. If you choose to use a fleet management system, you can seamlessly integrate your training and measure its effect on your warehouse safety, efficiency and productivity.

A fleet management system can reduce pre-operational paperwork from an average of 17 minutes to just two minutes. It can also reinforce some of the training your drivers are taught through electronic control, in case they forget things like speed limits and maximum load weights. According to a US study by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, approximately 70 per cent of all accidents reported could have been avoided with proper safety.

Drive with safety in mind

  • The ignition should never be left on, and drivers should avoid starting the forklift engine until they are absolutely ready to go. Not only does this avoid fuel wastage, it also ensures that the engine warms up as quickly as possible. It is an urban myth that engines need to be warmed up by idling for a while. Modern engines warm up faster when they are driven, and this also increases their efficiency and performance. It is crucial that you do not rev the engine too much over the first few kilometres, as this could cause unnecessary damage.
  • A steady pace should be maintained, as well as consistent speed, just below the designated limit. Drivers should avoid excessive braking and accelerating, which will reduce fuel costs and maintenance costs with reduced wear.
  • Smooth deceleration should be applied when slowing down or stopping, no slamming of the brakes upon arriving at a destination should take place. The accelerator should be released with gentle application of the brakes soon after, with increasing pressure until the destination is reached.
  • Idling should be discouraged. Idling the forklift whilst waiting for a load is a waste of fuel. Obviously, a very short wait is not worth switching off for, so use one minute as a guideline. If the wait is likely to be longer than one minute, the engine should then be switched off.

Design a smart warehouse

The design of the warehouse is also important in increasing the safety and efficiency of your forklift fleet. Think about aisle width and shelf density. Also consider what sort of segmentation your warehouse needs in terms of doors and walls. Your doors should be automatic, fast and robust.

The age of your forklift is not the only thing to consider. You should also be considering the age and suitability of your facility. The working surface needs to be clean and unbroken; anything that interrupts the regularity of the surface immediately creates a hazard. This can include things beyond cracking and decay; things such as oil or waste lying on the work surface can create serious hazards. You should attempt to optimise the warehouse environment as well as your forklift fleet. Putting in place practices such as slotting can decrease the wear on your forklifts while increasing productivity and profits.

Use signage

According to a US study by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, almost 80 per cent of forklift accidents involve a pedestrian. So segregating pedestrian and traffic zones is essential. The best way to do this is through clear marking and signage combined with the appropriate dispersion of guardrails and bollards to define and protect crucial areas.

This will increase the safety of your warehouse for pedestrians and drivers. It also increases the lifespan of your forklifts by decreasing the amount of potentially dangerous impacts with the surroundings. Consider signage as something that does not tell drivers and operators what to do, but reminds them of things they already know. Reflective markers and lines will help guide them on the correct path and easy to read signs will alert them to things of importance in that area.

Remember when choosing your signs that they will need to be legible at high speed and often they will be far above eye level. You should test their readability under both conditions. Clear signage should be used to alert drivers to things like exclusion zones, speed limits, pedestrian crossings, vehicle crossings, blind corners, steep gradients and any other known hazards.

Use clear vehicle routes and wide lanes

You need to think of vehicle routes as more than just lanes for moving vehicles, your routes also involve vehicles stopping rapidly, sitting at rest, passing and reversing. To deal with all this traffic, you should attempt to keep your lanes one-way if possible, and design them with separate entry and exit points for larger vehicles. You also need to ensure that the route surface is a well-drained material such as bitumen or concrete in order to increase grip and prevent slippage.

In addition to choosing the correct surface, you should always keep it free of hazards such as oil, slippery substances, potholes or other surface damage. All of these hazards affect stopping distances, maximum speeds and vehicle wear.

Another hazard to avoid is excessively steep gradients, as they create instability in forklifts and other vehicles in your warehouse and as previously mentioned, over a third of forklift related fatalities are a result of tipping. Your vehicle routes should be adjusted to accommodate lunch areas and other routine activities without hindering traffic.

Lane width may seem like a mundane concern but it is one of the crucial indicators of a fully optimised warehouse. Lanes need to have a buffer zone slightly larger than the widest load of your largest vehicle. While increasing lane width will reduce the risk of accidents and collisions, the opposing concern is having lanes narrow enough to maximise storage space. By correctly balancing the need for safety and the maximum storage area possible, you can find an optimal size for your warehouse.