Putting people in close proximity to machines opens up a range of risks, so it is essential to have strategies in place to ensure the operation is safe.
Two major warehouse fires in the past year have highlighted some of the risks faced by warehouse operators. In March last year more than 50 fire-fighters were called to a huge fire at a new warehouse opened by garden centre supplier Gardman in Daventry. And in February this year, fire destroyed Ocado’s automated warehouse at Andover highlighting the complexity of managing safety associated with the latest developments in robotics and automation.
Of course, warehouse fires are rare – there are plenty of health and safety hazards that are a lot more common. For many operations, some of the greatest potential dangers within the warehouse come as a result of forklift trucks operating in close proximity to pedestrians. Tim Waples, chief executive of the Fork Lift Truck Association, says: “Trucks and pedestrians working in the same space is a health and safety concern as collisions between the two can have very serious and sometimes fatal consequences. Collisions with racking and lost loads are a significant hazard as falling loads or equipment can impact any pedestrians nearby, or even the driver. Poor operator practice, such as speeding or cutting corners, also causes concern as it can lead to the forklift becoming unstable which results in accidents.
Waples points out that segregation between pedestrians and trucks is key: “Physical barriers if possible, but at the very minimum designated walkways that everyone is aware of. Proper training on how to use equipment as well as training on safe practice is essential – including training for all the non-operator staff who might have occasional cause to visit the warehouse floor but not day-to-day (management, etc.) Better signage can also help improve awareness. Risk assessments must be made in order to identify potential hazards and to highlight where safety can be improved.”
Much of the work on safety is focused on managing the problems that can arise. Waples says: “There have been many innovations aimed at improving forklift truck safety, both incorporated into the truck’s design and also available as retrofit enhancements. These include automatic systems and anti-collision equipment that can, for example, reduce speed, apply brakes, sense pedestrians and whether seat belts are being worn, and provide audio and visual warnings.
Brian Grady of Doosan Industrial Vehicles, points out that making people aware of vehicles close by is critical to ensuring a safe working environment. “Along with flashing beacons and alarms for reversing – such as white noise and voice annunciation ‘Stand clear, forklift reversing’ – a projected light to the floor also serves well to warn pedestrians. These are all available across the Doosan range.
“A brand new low-cost proximity alert system now available from Doosan is a projected LED red line, which extends to a meter along the sides and back of the vehicle, marking out a danger zone to pedestrians,” says Grady. “However, for extra safety Doosan has launched a pedestrian detection system that will automatically apply the brakes if a person or obstacle is detected in the path of a reversing vehicle.” Accidents often occur as a result of the operator stepping off a forklift truck to perform duties, such as pulling back lorry curtains or moving obstacles. Failure to apply a parking brake properly has all too often resulted in instances where the driver has been knocked over or pinned to the side of a vehicle, with tragic consequences.
Grady points out that to help prevent this Doosan has introduced an automatic parking brake to its latest electric truck range.
All the major forklift manufacturers have invested heavily in safety systems. Toyota introduced its System of Active Stability (SAS) some 20 years ago. It is fitted as standard on the Traigo and Tonero, monitoring a series of parameters of the truck’s performance to reduce the risk of possible accidents.
The SAS Mast Control function not only monitors the load height and mast position, but also defines the optimised mast speed and angle for these parameters. Fork Levelling Control ensure the forks are levelled at the push of a button, making this task quicker for the driver. And to ensure stability while cornering the 4-wheel Traigo and Tonero models have the SAS Swing Lock Cylinder. This automatically locks the rear axle swing movement. On the 3-wheel Traigo range, SAS optimises the driving speed when taking curves to ensure stability.
Linde highlighted its “Surround View”system at its World of Materials Handling event last year. Surround View is designed to address the problem of a pedestrian walking into the blind spot of a forklift truck – According to the German Social Accident Insurance, 44 per cent of notifiable accidents with forklift trucks in 2016 involved people being hit, crushed or suffering similar injuries. It has an image display based on live data from cameras mounted around the truck, and generates a front, a rear and two lateral fields of vision.
Another factor in ensuring safety is ensuring that only qualified and authorised employees have access to forklift trucks.
Doosan’s Brian Grady says: “Access control is gaining greater attention among fleet owners. Access codes are widely used, but swipe cards can offer higher levels of functionality, beyond simply allowing access. A swipe-card can present details on the operator, allowing the system to automatically prompt in advance if a licence is about to run out, if training is needed, or perhaps, if the holder is trying to access a vehicle they are not qualified to operate.”
Ultimately, says Waples, the most critical measure is to ensure that operators are properly trained and aware of the risks, and that equipment is regularly maintained.
Vital role for Thorough Examination
Perhaps the most important check to ensure forklift truck safety is the Thorough Examination. This is required by law, and must take place at regular intervals that depend on the type of truck, at least once a year.
There are two key pieces of legislation: LOLER 1998, which covers lifting equipment, and PUWER 1998, which deals with all other safety-related items, such as brakes, steering and tyres.
To ensure that a Thorough Examination is full and valid in law, the British Industrial Truck Association and the Fork Lift Truck Association set up Consolidated Fork Truck Services (CFTS) in 2004. It is now the national accreditation scheme for Thorough Examination, specifically for companies who service fork lift trucks.
CFTS works with the Health & Safety Executive. In September last year, The Health & Safety Executive confirmed that hand pallet trucks with maximum lifting heights below 300 mm are not subject to LOLER after confusion over the requirements of the regulations.
This confirmed the view held by CFTS. CFTS chairman Geoff Martin said: “Since these types of hand pallet trucks transport, rather than lift, our position has always been that they shouldn’t be subject to Thorough Examination. We’re pleased that the HSE shares this view.”
Vantec innovation centre
Vantec and the University of Sunderland have partnered to create a safety and training innovation centre at Vantec’s Sunderland headquarters which will focus on accident prevention in the logistics industry using innovation in training and health and safety.
The 9,000 sq ft building is will be open by March 2019. It will house a new living warehouse where 3D immersive training will take people through all the potential causes and consequences of a single lapse in safety prevention.
“The innovation centre is a completely new way of tackling safety awareness and accident prevention. Because it brings the consequences of a single lapse in safety to life it engages and involves every individual who takes part,” said Vantec Europe managing director Martin Kendall.
“It is an effective method of keeping safety to the front of the mind long-term.”
Fenceless robot system from Sick
Sick, the German technology manufacturer, has developed a protection system to enable unrestricted safe access to fenceless robots that it reckons will make robots and cobots more productive.
The Sick Safe Robotics Area Protection solution integrates a safety laser scanner with a controller to enable dynamic protection of the monitored area. The result is unrestricted access to the robot, for example to allow someone to inspect the operation of the robot or machinery, or to insert or remove work pieces.
The monitored area has two field sets, each with a non-safe warning field and a safety-rated protective field. The field sets are programmed to be selected dynamically, so that the robot can be slowed to a safe speed as a person enters the warning field and approaches the robot but can still be stopped safely when the protective field is infringed.
Seb Strutt, Sick UK’s senior product manager for machinery safety, said: “Sick Safe Robotics Area Protection lays the foundations for industrial robots to be more productive. Comprehensively tested as a single-source solution it is ready to use in no time at all. By supplying with factory configured and tested software function blocks, Sick enables the system to be integrated with ease and to fit seamlessly into the controllers of all standard industrial robots.”
This article first appeared in Logistics Manager, May 2019.