Ways to Improve Forklift Visibility and Awareness
Can your drivers see well enough to avoid incidents?
Driver awareness—or a lack of it—is responsible for many forklift accidents
Busy, frazzled, distracted, or plain inattentive drivers whose sightlines are impaired will have accidents. They’ll collide with pallet rack posts, building columns, walls, machinery and a variety of other things. Worse, they sometimes hit people. What can you do to increase driver awareness and the ability to see what’s around them?
Ways to increase visibility for drivers
There are many options, including better processes, better lighting, safety equipment, and more. Fundamentals may include preparing your plant for a collision in those areas where they are most likely. That means installing rack upright guards, steel guard rails, and other measures that defend assets and people in the event of an accident. That aside, what other measures should you take to increase driver awareness?
In some instances, it makes sense to add camera systems that help drivers see where their eyes cannot. These systems aren’t terribly expensive, but are ideal for drivers who cannot see past a load, behind their forklift, or into other areas. They can be used as backup cameras, which may be ideal for drivers emerging from a trainer and onto a loading dock with a load on the forks. They can also be mounted on overhead guards or the carriage to help drivers line up their forks with a pallet.
Address any environmental factors that reduce visibility
We explore this pretty thoroughly in this article. Yes, there are bad drivers, but even good drivers have accidents due to poor visibility. But you should create an environment for success for your drivers before you assign all blame for accidents to them. This is particularly true if you continue to have accidents and collisions over time involving lots of drivers. The basics of this are to eliminate those environmental factors that contribute to these incidents. Those include:
- Eliminate distracted driving – Don’t allow forklift drivers to use cell phones, wear headphones, drink, eat, etc. while operating forklifts.
- Increase lighting – Warehouses, particularly in the cavernous aisles between rack rows, get pretty dark. There are many energy-efficient lighting solutions that can help you increase overall visibility (and save money). Make sure areas where drivers operate are bright and visible. You can also mount lights on the forklift to help the driver see: the general guideline is that you need forklift lights if your ambient lighting is less than 2 lumens/square foot.
- Reduce aisle and dock clutter – Clutter in aisles or around dock doors contributes to lack of visibility which is a significant contributor to accidents. Don’t let pallets, stacks of cartons, or other obstacles sit in your lanes and aisles.
- Do your drivers have good vision? – Annually vision-test your drivers to be sure they don’t have any problems that would reduce their ability to safely operate a lift truck.
Use technology to guide forklift tines
One of the most common ways products or racks are damaged in a warehouse is by improper loading of racks due to misaligned tines, and direct hits from tines on palletized loads as they are being loaded or unloaded. This can cause rack damage, punctured cases and spilled pallets. Camera systems, sensors and laser fork alignment systems are available to help drivers see where their tines are aligned to help avoid these issues. These let the driver view more precisely where his tines are aligned without trying to look up twenty feet past his load. Good drivers usually don’t have issues with this, while others require spotters. But even good drivers can cause an expensive, dangerous accident on a wrong day.
Utilize safety mirrors, sensors and lighting
The ability to see around corners, into parallel aisles, and other blind spots supply drivers with critical information to make better decisions. The various types of dome and convex mirrors are economical to install on walls, hang from ceilings, or on rack posts. Rear-view mirrors give the driver better visibility to back safely without striking someone, a rack upright, a wall, or machinery. For more difficult areas, consider automated sensor mirrors that monitor aisles and flashlights or messages if potential collisions are detected.
One of the options for high-risk or low-visibility areas is to consider a zone-based detection system that can ring audible alarms and flashlights when pedestrians are detected.
Good visibility sets up a driver to make better decisions and operate vehicles safely around pedestrians, machinery, storage racks, and equipment. Finding ways to increase the driver’s awareness is key to a safer, more effective warehousing operation.
Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.