Red Diamond Distribution (RDD) — exclusive UK distributors of Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks — suggests that recent studies by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (OSHA) make grim reading for forklift operators. According to the report, tipping accidents are identified as the biggest single cause of operator fatalities (42%). In almost every case, the driver was ‘mousetrapped’ between the truck and the ground, causing massive trauma to the head or upper body. So what can be done by employers and those who design forklifts to address this pressing problem?
It’s a tragic fact that accidents where a forklift truck has tipped over and trapped the operator as they tried to jump clear are as commonplace as they are life-threatening. It seems that the human brain is hard-wired for flight and no amount of training, experience or knowledge can stop people trying to escape. Yet, the sad fact is that if the operator were to stay in their seat they would almost certainly walk away with bruising and little more.
So why do things go so horribly wrong, so frighteningly fast…
As a tipping incident unfolds, it feels to the operator that everything is happening quite slowly and that jumping clear is an obvious option: the distance to safety is relatively short and the escape route is large. In truth, things are very different. The falling overhead guard accelerates rapidly, all the time pivoting away from the operator. This greatly increases the distance needed to reach safety and shortens the amount of time available to escape.
So what are the causes of tipping… and what can be done to prevent them? At the heart of the issue is the ‘stability pyramid’ (actually a tetrahedron) and the truck’s centre of gravity, which shifts as a load is lifted and as a truck turns or meets uneven ground. (A helpful, illustrated explanation can be found here.)
For the purposes of this article, though, lets focus on practical measures for minimising the danger.
Right management, right approach
Avoiding mousetrapping accidents requires those responsible for supervising forklift operations to consider both primary and secondary safety: firstly doing everything possible to prevent accidents and secondly employing every available technology to mitigate the outcomes.
It starts with management assessing the site, completing risk assessments and making operating conditions as safe as possible. This would typically mean:
- creating safe systems of work to eliminate hazards or minimise the risk associated with them
- removing routes that require trucks to travel down slopes (especially while laden)
- eliminating uneven surfaces
- keeping ground conditions in good order (so no potholes, debris, etc.)
- completing a risk assessment and specific training where ramps are in use
At the same time, establishing (and sustaining) a comprehensive training regime is vital in ensuring operators understand and can identify potentially dangerous practices and thereby avoid them. Training is equally important to ensure that all those whose job it is to supervise forklift operations are qualified to do so and are constantly vigilant. Safety is an ongoing, everyday process, not a quick fix.
What makes a truck safer?
In recent years, major manufacturers have strived to make equipment safer and it’s here where Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks have proved award-winning pioneers. Listed here are just a few of the techniques and technologies developed to transform primary safety and make forklift operations not only safer but also more cost-effective.
Intelligent Curve Control
State-of-the-art software prevents tipping by seamlessly adjusting the truck’s speed as it enters a turn, taking into account the steer angle and load. The result is not only significantly increased operator safety and reduced risk of load shedding but also improved productivity as the manoeuvre is completed at optimum speed. If that wasn’t enough, this clever bit of design also reduces tyre wear for lower running costs.
That same software goes on to deliver the levels of precise, intuitive handling normally associated with high-end electric cars by analysing the behaviour of each operator in real-time and automatically adjusting the truck’s operating characteristics proportional to driver inputs to suit the operator’s individual driving style.
Enhancing the operator experience still further, passive sway control dampens the motion of an elevated load by compensating with micro chassis movements.
As mentioned earlier, inclines can be a major factor in tipping incidents and should ideally be avoided. However, for those situations where working on slopes or ramps cannot be avoided – such as a loading bay – the Mitsubishi EDiA electric counterbalance range again comes to the operator’s assistance with a hill-hold feature that automatically stops the truck from rolling backwards without any action required by the driver.
And, because driving with the mast raised is the single biggest cause of machine-tip events, Mitsubishi has incorporated automatic driving speed reduction where the mast is raised above the first mast stage.
A life or death difference…
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest dangers is the impulse to jump clear when a truck start to tip. Wearing a seat belt is a simple and highly effective way of avoiding that, by keeping the operator restrained safely in their seat.
In the real world, getting the operator to actually wear it presents much more of a challenge. Most operators can’t be bothered to buckle up, especially when things get hectic or in frequent on-off applications. Similarly, supervisors get weary of telling their staff to comply.
In a great many workplaces the temptation to cut corners (and override safety features) for the sake of convenience is as commonplace as it is compelling.
Operators will frequently avoid wearing a seatbelt (even where there is an interlock) and will trick the machine by fastening the seat belt permanently behind them.
I’m pleased to say a secondary safety solution is at hand. Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks has engineered its latest range of electric trucks to be fully seat belt compliant. This switchable function allows the employer to select an option that ensures wearing of a seat belt is mandatory.
To enable the truck to drive the forklift or operate the hydraulics, three steps must be followed:
- sit on the seat (to activate the seat switch)
- Turn on the ignition
- fasten the seat belt to (activate the seat belt switch)
If this sequence is followed the truck will drive and the operator can use the hydraulics. However, if the sequence has not been completed or if the operator has tried to circumnavigate it, the machine will not move.
Sometimes, the simple stuff can have the greatest impact.
You may not be able to curb an operator’s natural instincts in the event of a tip over, but there is much you can do to prevent the fearful and often fatal injuries suffered when they try to leap clear.
Getting the right equipment is your first step, and Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks has a nationwide network of trusted local dealers ready and able to make recommendations that will not only keep your operators productive, but more importantly, safe.
For more information about Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks visit www.mitsubishi-forklift.co.uk or call 0845 3713048.