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Warehouse safety

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SHD Logistics’ editor Kirsty Adams catches-up with Combilift’s Martin McVicar to discuss safety measures introduced at the manufacturer’s County Monaghan plant due to COVID-19, and the ever-important issues around fork lift safety.

Safety has always been an important topic for warehouse managers – it has to be – they run a facility where operatives can be hit or crushed by powerful forklifts. Warehouse managers, fork lift truck (FLT) manufacturers and associations like the HSE, BITA and the FLTA – as well as trainers such as Mentor and RTITB – have worked together in the UK and Ireland to eliminate risk, through robust procedures and safety features. Accidents still happen, which is why National Forklift Safety Day on the 9 of June – earlier this week – was an important date to recognise. 

In the last few months, the safety conversation has changed somewhat. Whilst FLT safety remains paramount, warehouse managers have been advised to introduce new safety steps due to COVID-19, in order to keep their facilities running and ensure staff feel safe. Operatives are used to following safety measures regarding FLT, but virus safety is new ground. SHD Logistics spoke to Combilift founder Martin McVicar this week to discuss safety and recognise National Forklift Safety Day – which he’s a keen supporter of – highlighted by the fact he decided to build Combilift National Safety Week (8 - 12 June) around it.

He’s a true advocate for safety, evident in his safety product range, which we’ve showcased below, but also by his response to COVID-19 in his own manufacturing plant. The Combilift manufacturing plant – County Monaghan, Ireland – was back-up and running with safety measures in place three weeks after the country's lockdown. An impressive timeline. Implemented measures at the plant include a change in shift patterns. Both engineers and administrators re-entered the operation in shifts of either 6am to 2pm or 2pm to 10pm.

Temperature checks on entry have been introduced, and fob keys have replaced fingerprints for checking-in at the start of each day. Copper films were added to door handles – a surface which the virus only lives on for minutes according to McVicar – and facemasks are now part of the uniform.Face-to-face communication with customers has been more difficult to reconcile, explains McVicar, usually found flying to Brazil or the UK to meet key customers. The team swiftly introduced the Combilift Virtual Site Survey, which means clients in Germany for example (the only country he tells us, which didn’t need to shut down operations during the pandemic) can use Facebook or Whatsapp to capture data/video/images from facilities and feed it back to Combilift’s engineers, tasked with engineering  reconfiguration solutions. 

We learned that the number of enquiries received for free warehouse reconfiguration plans had increased by 100% during April, measured against the same period in 2019. He explains that this is because of the space that can be created using the company's range of narrow aisle fork lift trucks (see below). According to McVicar, they create space at a time when operators need to find it for social distancing purposes. We take a look at some of the company’s key products – and what customer's had to say about them – as part of Combilift’s Fork Lift Safety week.

Combilift’s multi-position tiller arm (Combi-CS)

Combilift’s reputation for designing products and features which enhance safety was recognised last year when it won the Industrial Vehicles Category of the BITA (British Industrial Truck Association) Design4Safety Awards. This was for its patented multi-position tiller arm - a feature common to all its pedestrian models. It was designed to ensure maximum safety for the operator and other personnel who may be in the area where the trucks are operating, whilst enabling productive picking and placing of products in narrow aisles. 

The tiller arm can be turned to the left or right of the truck and enables push button rotation of the rear wheel parallel to the chassis and back again. It allows the operator to remain in the safest possible position when working in narrow aisles - at the side of the truck rather than at the rear as is the case with other pedestrian trucks. This reduces the risk of the operator being crushed or trapped between the truck and the racking. The operator’s sight line is not impeded by having to look through the mast, guaranteeing full visibility of the load, the forks and the surroundings, for greater awareness and therefore safety, not only for the operator but also for any other personnel or members of the public nearby. 

The tiller arm also incorporates a monitor which clearly displays the rear wheel position on pedestrian models such as the multidirectional Combi-WR4, the Combi-CS counterbalance stacker and the Combi-PPT powered pallet truck.   

Safer Long Load Handling working Indoor & Outdoor 

Combilift’s multidirectional models are designed specifically for the challenges of long and bulky loads, they combine the advantages of a counterbalance forklift, sideloader and narrow aisle truck in one machine to ensure safe as well as space saving and efficient handling. 

The very low centre of gravity and integrated platform provides a stable, low level base for resting loads on during transportation and with the cab mounted to the side of the mast, the operator has a clear view of the load. 4-way ability enables quick change of the wheel direction to enable sideways travel in confined spaces or though doorways. 

According to the company, thousands of companies have ditched their conventional counterbalance fleets and replaced these with multidirectional C-Series trucks, and Combi-CB compact 4-way counterbalance design models. 

Alan Boyden, Joint MD of AJN Steel: “We switched from counterbalance trucks to Combilifts to ensure the safer handling of our long and heavy products - moving 18m beams with a counterbalance truck is not ideal from a number of points of view. Our C-Series models move around 300t of steel every day and have made a valuable contribution to our aim to establish and maintain the highest standards of health and safety performance within our industry.” 

Malcolm Wright, Director of Edward Howell Galvanizers: “ Efficient handling which also conforms to the highest levels of health and safety is a key part of our operations. Inch by inch manoeuvring of long and heavy loads through a narrow side door with counterbalance trucks is now a thing of the past. Resting the loads on the is much more secure and increases the speed with which we can transport goods from the galvanizing bays to the storage yard.”  


Combi-WR reach stacker

Safety was the impetus for the development of its first pedestrian model, the Combi-WR reach stacker. This was quickly followed by the launch of its 4-way counterpart, the Combi-WR4; the first purpose built 4-way pedestrian reach stacker which combines multi-directional travel with features such as a pantograph reach, side shift and tilting fork carriage for handling long loads and pallets. 

The company says it's the only truck of its kind able to work in aisle-widths of 2.1m pallet to pallet and its excellent ergonomics, which enhance occupational health and safety for the operator, earned it an FLTA Award a few years ago. 

Replacing ride-on forklifts with pedestrian models when possible is an acknowledged way to reduce risks to other employees or the general public who may be in the vicinity, so it comes as no surprise that major DIY chains were amongst the first to welcome the Combi-WR4 to their handling fleet. 

Pedestrian trucks naturally operate at slower speeds compared to motorised ride-on forklifts, and operators have a heightened awareness of their immediate environment as well as good all-round visibility of the load and the forks. Combilift’s R&D department developed and patented the unique multi-position tiller arm which enables push-button rotation of the rear wheel, allowing the operator to remain in the safest possible position when placing and picking in narrow aisles, which is at the side of the unit. And electronic power steering, fingertip controls on the tiller arm and dual side by side front wheels offer superb manouevrability and effortless operation for handling even the longest and bulkiest loads around narrow confines and corners.    

Combilift Straddle Carrier Handles Heavy Loads Safely & Efficiently 

Any company that handles large loads of concrete or structural steel for example is familiar with the risks that are posed when loading trailers with product ready to be sent out to customers. This can often involve the need for working at height as personnel stand on the trailer to guide forklift drivers, or to sling hooks onto loads when using cranes. 

To eliminate these hazards, many are turning to Combilift’s Combi-SC range of straddle carriers, which allow full loads to be prepared at ground level. Once completed, the Straddle Carrier drives over the top of the load, picks it up in one lift and places it directly on the truck bed ready to be secured for transportation. Lifting and manoeuvering even the heaviest and very cumbersome loads is no problem for the Combi-SC. Its optimum centre of gravity, broad wheelbase and exceptional 3-wheel manouevrability ensure maximum load stability. The centrally located, ground accessible cab offers 360° visibility, the user interface is intuitive and all functions can be carried out from within the cab without the need for operatives to work at height. 

And there are many other benefits, as Mike Nesbitt, Equipment Manager at Schulte Building Systems in the US explains: “Doing something the safer way has ended up being the more profitable way too. Our Combi-SCs have not only improved safety in the shop floors and yards but have halved the time it takes to build a load, reduced labour costs and boosted profits.”  

Avoid overloading and keep safe with the Combilift Safe-Lift 

Overloaded vehicles can tip and fall, resulting not only in damage to vehicles and stock, but at worst can cause serious or fatal injuries to personnel. There are several factors that can influence a forklift truck to become overloaded and the load centre - the distance from the face of fork to the centre of gravity of the load plays a crucial part. 

Forklift operators who are insufficiently aware of their forklift’s load capacity and the risks that come with exceeding this not only compromise their own safety, but also place everyone working around them at serious risk. But as we cannot expect forklift operators to have to constantly do the maths, we need to make life easier – and safer – for them. 

The Combilift Safe-Lift is an anti-overload device which enables drivers to avoid the pitfalls of potential overloading. It incorporates a strain sensor on the mast and a lift cut-out valve positioned on the mast hydraulic lift hose. There is an audible alarm which warns the operator of an overload situation and an indicator unit is fitted to the dashboard in the cab. The operator can instantly see from the green, amber and red “traffic light” signalling when there is a risk of overloading or when the forks are not fully engaged for example and take appropriate action. Fitting this simple and cost effective system to counterbalance trucks is an effective way to cut risks for the operators and other personnel, and also to avoid product damage as well as costly repairs.  

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