Safety Nirvana ahead? Technology advances promise a much safer warehouse world

If there is one area in forklift operations that commends the truck makers more than any other it is their concern over safety and their efforts to apply endless, technological innovation to improve all- round safety. Along the decadeslong road of continuous improvement we have seen many worthy advances, like Toyota’s pioneering System of Active Stability (SAS) that actively controls the stability of the truck and load.

Ergonomics, which is a safety-related issue, has seen such improvements as to be too numerous to mention. Yet the disturbing fact remains that serious forklift injuries still occur despite all the advances in warehouse truck safety.

Linde, the world’s number 2 forklift maker, quotes that such accidents in Germany alone during 2016 reached 12,671, with the estimated cost per accident at Euro85,000, but that does not include losses from production downtime nor potential legal consequences. Those figures also show that 44% of the notifiable accidents with forklifts involved pedestrians being hit. In recent years forklifts have made use of radar scanning systems to address this problem but the results were less than entirely satisfactory.

The spirit of innovation, however, never lies still and we can now look to such sensors which ostensibly promise a way to nearzero accidents. The idea behind one such vision development from Elokon is to stop forklift accidents before they happen. Predict the impact and thereby prevent, says the company. Its product, ELOshield, is an ultra-wide band radio frequency protection system for reach and counterbalanced trucks. A fixed site version monitors accident-prone areas and a mobile version monitors ‘danger zones’ of up to 25 mt around moving vehicles, both vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to person.

The truck-fitted RF product communicates with pedestrians who wear a tag worn on the arm or the hip that issues a warning zone vibration and then a ‘danger zone’ acoustic signal. It works whether trucks are moving forward or reversing. With the stationery zoning version installed at high traffic intersections it can force trucks into creep speed once they enter a warning or danger zone, thus preventing accidents owing to high truck speeds.

Uneven ground, especially in VNA areas, can damage trucks and loads as masts hit the racking. Until now the remedy was to screed or laser grind the surfaces but that is a costly solution. Still, part of the Linde group, recently came up with its Action Floor Compensation (AFC) which ensures that floor irregularities are no longer a problem for narrow aisle trucks.

The system only intervenes when a truck is driven down a narrow aisle, where the AFC records height differences between the respective load wheel tracks. The load wheels adjust to floor irregularities in real time so the chassis is constantly kept horizontal and the lift mast always vertical. Other systems that have tried to address the problem merely dampened the lateral swinging of the lift mast and cabin. Still says that its mode of action is unique.