Investing in ergonomics and safety pays off
Solutions that enhance ergonomics are important to workers, companies, and the society. One day on sick leave would cost the employer 300–350 euros on an average and billions of euros are spent annually on premature disability pensions in Finland.
Working environment safety is affected by several factors, such as the physical environment, company management culture, pace of work, work supervision, employees’ skills, and the ergonomic solutions in use.
Over the past twenty years or so we have seen major steps to improve safety and ergonomy in forklift work. Fortunately, positive development has taken place, because the situation used to be rather bleak. Currently known as UniCarriers, the warehouse forklift producer Atlet participated in the late 1980s in a project initiated by the Swedish government with the aim to find the reasons for high sick leave figures and to offer solutions for better well-being at work. That is when the Tergo project was kicked off.
It was a challenging situation. Optimizing the use of warehouse space had made the aisles too narrow for counterbalance forklifts, and most of the time operators would be sitting sideways to the travel direction – this is still the situation in warehouses today. In those days, 99 percent of all full-time forklift operators suffered from health problems related to working position. Operators could be turning their heads more than 1000 times during one working hour, and having their heads turned more than 45 degrees during 60% of working time, which directly correlates to disabilities. In addition to head, neck, and back, stress related health problems were also found in other body parts. Product development and design started to pay special attention not only to driving position but to the positioning of different function controls and the positions of fingers, wrists, forearms, and elbows.
The project produced a whole Tergo range to the Atlet product family from a small reach forklift to a high-lift narrow aisle forklift. The Tergo series warehouse machines are still the best choice when you are looking for the best ergonomy and productivity.
Ergonomy plays a major role
The objective of engineering UniCarriers forklifts is to make the most personal forklifts in the world – forklifts that can be easily adjusted to suit different operators. To find the best solutions, forklift operators and their co-workers were interviewed and comprehensive scientific studies were made on injuries caused by repetitive stress. Several forklift prototypes were tested in cooperation with operators in real life conditions. We are all individual, but the characteristics of a human body are known regarding the musculoskeletal system, and there is no need any more to test which machine type is suitable for you.
Poor driving positions and other issues related to ergonomy are causing declined capacity to cope with the workload and at some point even bigger problems. Solutions that improve ergonomics are significant not only to the workers but also to the companies and the society. One day on sick leave would cost the employer 300–350 euros on an average and billions of euros are spent annually on premature disability pensions in Finland.
Safety devices are a great help
We aim to be pioneers in promoting forklift safety as well. Whenever we sell a forklift we also provide operator training that will cover all essential safety issues. The use of seat belts is also emphasized as the use of this “conventional” safety device is too often overlooked.
Although ergonomy and forklift safety have improved, forklift work still has its risks. Unfortunately the media has all too often news of serious forklift accidents, some with fatal consequences.
Forklifts by UniCarriers are made with focus on safety in both major and minor details. Visibility is one of the cornerstones, and this is where there are significant differences between different manufacturers. UniCarriers forklifts are designed with even the small components located so that obstructions to the operator’s visibility are minimized.
Most accidents are collisions between a forklift and a human. New forklifts, especially electric ones, are more silent and also faster than earlier models. A forklift can appear unexpectedly from behind a corner, and this is why I would recommend spotlights in both driving directions. We are constantly seeking new solutions to improve safety in working environments. At the moment, we are testing corner warning lights with motion detectors that detect movement from two directions and alert operators and others moving in the warehouse if a moving object is detected on both sides of a corner.
Spotlights and corner lights are simple and inexpensive safety solutions to cut down the number of accidents and save lives. Safety rarely plays the main role when purchasing a forklift, but it does not pay to compromise on safety.