08 June 2016
Forklift-related accidents are a major problem for manufacturers around the world.Statistics show that in the United States alone someone is killed every three days in a forklift-related accident - and nearly 80% of those involve a pedestrian. These figures from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also reveal that approximately 70% of accidents could have been avoided by following the proper safety precautions.
So what can be done? On June 14 this year, National Forklift Safety Day will be taking place in Washington DC to tackle this question. The event aims to promote best practice and educate manufacturers and business owners on ways to improve the safety of their employees.
One of the key issues with forklifts is that drivers frequently have a limited field of view. Vehicle controls are often designed to drive facing the forks - forcing drivers to peer through equipment and goods to see where they are going and sometimes they’ll have no visibility at all in the direction of travel. Another huge problem is caused by pedestrians underestimating the speed at which these vehicles can travel – and the drivers going too fast. If forklifts try to stop quickly they topple over; injuring drivers, pedestrians and causing chaos to operations. Often there is nothing separating the forklift and pedestrian walkway but a yellow line painted on the floor. This may work most of the time for the pedestrian, but they won’t always be able to, or choose to, abide by it and it simply won’t be seen by a forklift driver.
There are processes and technologies that have been introduced to reduce the number of forklift accidents, from driver training and safety procedures to restricted path and walkways. While these factors play a critical role in keeping any working environment safe, more is needed to avoid collisions and deaths.
Real-time monitoring and control offer an opportunity to improve collision avoidance, but one of the main problems has been the latency of infrastructure-based, real-time location systems (RTLS). By the time the system has determined location and time, and then sent an alert, it may be too late for a forklift driver or pedestrian to take evasive action. Warnings tend to be more along the lines of ‘you just hit a pedestrian’, when what is needed is ‘slow down, pedestrian ahead’. These systems are also very complex, requiring installation of sensors throughout the building, as well as expensive and there are now other solutions better suited to this problem.
A new angle on safety
Determining whether someone is in danger requires technology that can precisely detect the position of the pedestrian in line with the forkilft’s direction of travel. Ubisense’s AngleID is the perfect solution, offering a reliable and highly accurate detection system to avoid collisions. Providing precise location data even in highly metallic environments, its powerful reader offers 10 times the range of most systems. It senses ultra-wideband pulses from Ubisense RFID tags using an antenna ray to accurately determine the precise angle between the tag and reader. It then compares that angle in up to eight different zones and reports entry and exit events at each in real time.
How could this work in practice?
By placing an AngleID reader on each side of the forklift and placing RFID tags on employees, either on lanyards, badges or other suitable items, it can accurately detect whether there is someone in the direct path of the vehicle. It can detect people up to 150 feet in front of the forklift, while ignoring people safely walking in their designated pedestrian lane, only feet from its path. This works in real-time, so if someone steps off the walkway and into the path of a forklift, or the forklift veers towards a pedestrian, the AngleID readers will instantly detect the issue. AngleID can be connected to a system that then immediately alerts the driver, eliminating false alarms and avoiding collisions. The alert can be set up to have different lights or sounds according to the environment and problem detected and provide real-time information to the driver in a visible, or even physical, way (although shock collars probably not advised!). Similarly, if a forklift is going too fast an alert can be activated to warn the driver, or their boss, that they are behaving in a dangerous manner and that they need to slow down or change direction.