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Forklift Driving – Comfortable and Safe

Forklift Driving – Comfortable and Safe

Focus on Ergonomics

Alongside the total cost of operations and the productivity, an ergonomic driver’s workspace is one of the most important criteria in the acquisition of new forklifts and technical warehouse equipment. The efforts of the manufacturers – and particularly the premium suppliers – to constantly improve ergonomics for the driver are accordingly high. Which solutions have a particularly positive effect on the posture and health of the driver?

Unicarriers - ComfortableNext year, the forklift will celebrate its 100th birthday. The issue of workspace design and ergonomics has become increasingly important particularly in the last 30 years. Whereas the manufacturers previously focused primarily on occupational safety, there are now many solutions and equipment variants that should protect the driver from the high levels of strain and maintain performance.  The human vibrations that occur particularly during travel and the typical head and arm movements are frequently the cause of health problems with the back and specifically the neck and shoulder area for forklift drivers. A study by the technical university in Gothenburg in co-operation with UniCarriers Group has shown that forklift drivers turn their head more than 1,000 times per hour. In addition to this, they make up to 2,000 arm movements. In the light of rising personnel costs and longer working lives due to demographic change, the protection of health above and beyond the statutory requirements is increasingly becoming a focus of employers. As a consequence, the issue of ergonomics is also a decisive factor for an increasing number of operators in the purchase of new equipment. Moreover, an ergonomic and user-friendly workspace improves safety in the subsequent operation of the vehicle. This includes the layout and functionality of the intuitive controls as well as a comfortable seat and good visibility on all sides. 

Ergonomics – the best protection against accidents

Comfortable ForkliftErgonomics begins with safe entry and exit, as the driver frequently leaves the forklift during the shift. This is best guaranteed with a large, nonslip step and with the aid of a handle. The best protection against driving accidents in everyday operation is offered by good visibility on all sides. An investigation by the “Energie Textil Elektro Medienerzeugnisse” (energy, textile, electrical, media products) professional association shows for example that 77 percent of all forklift accidents are impact accidents, 33 percent of which happen when reversing. Together with a high seat position, large fields of vision due to thin mast profiles with optimum arrangement of the hydraulic hoses and electrical cables as well as slim pillars and tapered ribs in the protective cover ensure good all-round visibility. UniCarriers offers its forklifts with an anti-reflective coloured coating of the cab roof. This reduces the reflections from lights on the hall ceiling. To help, camera systems can improve forward or rear visibility. One example is the new Tergo UFW multi-way forklift from UniCarriers, which is designed for transporting long goods. It is fitted with a reversing camera, so the ends of the load are fully visible at all times.

Relaxed posture and smaller strains

An optimal driver’s workspace should be constructed in accordance with ergonomic and occupational health knowledge, as a relaxed working posture reduces signs of fatigue even on long shifts and the performance of the driver remains Forklift Comfortablehigh. Operating costs can therefore be reduced and more pallets can be moved. To avoid strains on the human body when driving reach trucks, the sideways seat direction for example is now part of the industry standard. Moreover, the driver’s seat should be adjusted individually for size and weight to an optimal position in terms of height and direction. Premium suppliers such as UniCarriers also additionally offer a height-adjustable floor. Furthermore, comfort seats also offer individually adjustable lumbar supports. In 2011, Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden conducted an ergonomic comparative study with reach trucks from different manufacturers. “The result shows that the Tergo reach truck from Atlet by UniCarriers allows a more ergonomic posture than other reach trucks. The features observed in the study were a more symmetrical working posture for the back and head, reducing the strains on the neck and shoulder area. The structural elements contributing to this are a tilting backrest, an armrest for the left arm and the position of the steering wheel,” Anna-Lisa Osvalder, Professor of Human Machine Systems at Chalmers University of Technology, summarises the results. The investigations included theoretical expert analyses of the cab design, video recordings of the sitting position during operation and subjective assessments of comfort. 

Innovative technologies for greater productivity

The issue of ergonomics has a long tradition in the history of UniCarriers and its original brands Atlet by UniCarriers and TCM. The strains on drivers when operating the forklifts were investigated for the first time as long ago as in 1989 to 1991. The findings had an impact on the development of new drivers’ workspaces and vehicles. With the merger of the brands Atlet, Nissan Forklift and TCM to form the UniCarriers group in 2011, this tradition and the endeavour to constantly improve vehicle ergonomics were continued. With the new Tergo URS swivel reach truck from the Atlet by UniCarriers product family, the driver can therefore recall numerous individual settings at the start of driving by inputting a personal PIN code. For an ergonomic posture in all work stages, the backrest can also be tilted backwards by up to 18 degrees. This is important, as the forks are raised sufficiently high that the driver needs to look up for around ten percent of the working time. This strain is reduced by the seat tilt function. To relieve the strain on the driver’s arm and shoulder area, UniCarriers has developed the individually adjustable “floating” armrest, on which the left forearm can be placed and which moves with it. At the end of this mobile, sprung armrest is the patented mini steering wheel, which represents an ergonomically optimised solution with its palm-sized functional surface. All operating elements for the lifting functions can be reached from the right armrest in the form of mini levers and buttons.  

Premium manufacturers such as UniCarriers also offer an integrated joystick as standard, with which all the major functions of the lift mast can be controlled. This makes the forklift easier to operate, saves time and increases the handling rate, as several functions can be performed simultaneously. Both armrests are height-adjustable. The pressure on the neck, back, shoulders and elbows is therefore reduced, which encourages a relaxed sitting position. As the driver’s left shoulder is turned towards the backrest, the body can also be turned more easily in the direction of travel of the forklift with the aid of the mini steering wheel. The driver is also assisted here by the specially shaped, narrow backrest. Incidentally: the driver travels forwards for around 70 percent and in the direction of the forks for around 20 percent of the working time. Here, the left arm is employed with moving the steering wheel for up to 74 percent of the time. 

Pleasure in stacking

Generally: a forklift driver should feel comfortable in the workspace. This is helped by ergonomic vehicle and cab equipment, which reduces strains and thus protects the health of the driver. Signs of fatigue can therefore be prevented and staff shortages due to illness can be reduced. The manufacturers offer numerous equipment variants and innovative solutions. The trend here is towards greater capacity for personalisation of the forklift. Additionally, the vehicles are becoming ever quieter. The winner from this development is not only the driver but, in the end, also the operator. Ultimately, the operator benefits from high productivity and operating safety.

Thursday, 7 Apr 2016 ( #764

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