Injury Statistics -
Each year forklifts account for almost 100,000 industrial accidents, about 1% of the accidents in the workplace. 10% of workplace injuries come from forklift accidents. There are an estimated 100 fatal accidents every year between forklifts and pedestrians. Installing safety strobe lights could prevent many of these incidents and injuries.
Most forklift injuries come from driver error and not using proper safety equipment, but about 35% involve a pedestrian. In an accident between a forklift weighing several tons and a pedestrian, the pedestrian will be injured and most of the time severely.
Pedestrians walk in front of forklifts, they do not see them around blind corners, they do not realize their turning radius with a load. Safety lighting gives a guide to pedestrians – do not enter the area within the light, that area is the area the forklift needs to stop, start, and turn safely.
Forklifts, or mobile power propelled trucks, come in many shapes and sizes from low lifts that are used to move freight around on shipping docks to high lifts used to place freight in racks. These powered industrial trucks are designed to be ridden on or used by hand and may be used in all sorts of terrain. Each application has its own concerns, but visibility and pedestrian safety remains a number one concern across industries.
Warehouses are designed to give enough room for forklifts to pass safely with limited clearance within the racks and docks.There are many blind spots and blind corners in warehouses, safety lighting can prevent accidents in these spots between multiple lifts.
When operating a forklift around pedestrians it’s important to know your lift and remember your center of gravity, load center, and stability triangle. Having experience with your lift and how it handles with a load, in emergency stopping and swerving situations, and using all the safety devices for the driver is important – you cannot keep others safe if you do not keep yourself safe first.
62,000 accidents with non-serious injuries and 35,000 accidents with serious injuries were attributed to forklifts last year by OSHA. Many forklift accidents happen with shifting loads or tipping equipment, but about 35% involve a pedestrian.
The top three types of injuries happen when workers are hit, struck, crushed, or pinned by a forklift. These accidents happen often on loading docks and in storage racks where workers may not see other lifts coming around corners or in blind spots.
Preventing accidents -
I worked in a warehouse about ten years ago and a fellow employee was killed when he stepped off his forklift within an area where no pedestrians were allowed. He wanted to pick up a piece of debris that had fallen from a pallet he placed within the rack in the warehouse and in a horrible accident was crushed between his lift and a fellow employee’s lift while he was exiting his lift.
Following all OSHA safety rules and guidelines is important. To prevent accidents, you should always yield the right of way to the pedestrian, make sure your safety lights and horn are working, and move slowly in congested areas.
This incident made me aware of and interested in industrial safety. I moved on from the logistics world and into insurance which made me more aware of how many things can go wrong and how important safety is, but that incident has stuck with me that proper precautions and following safety rules saves lives.
Many pedestrians in warehouses do not see forklifts and are unaware of traffic patterns. People new to industrial operations may be unaware of the risks of walking in high traffic areas, within rack areas in warehouses, or on shipping and receiving docks.
Lane markers, gates, special doors and fencing are helpful, strobe lights are more obtrusive and capture attention quicker. In addition to strobe lights and physical markings, forklifts come equipped with horns, sirens, and other safety features to warn pedestrians.
One of the battles with these safety items on forklifts is lift operators disabling horns and sirens and blinking lights because they are distracting to the operator. It can be distracting to have a flashing yellow light in a dim warehouse or a constant beep that only a driver hears because of the decibel levels in an industrial location, finding a compromise between safety and ease of use is important.
Some warehouses require operators to honk the horn every 3 – 5 seconds. This practice is great unless the forklift operator is distracted or forgets, and in the event of an accident it is almost impossible to prove if the safety guidelines were being property followed.
Safety Lights -
Around 2009 some companies started putting strobe lights on the front and back of forklifts to warn pedestrians. The strobe lights are mounted on the top of the driver safety cage and point to the ground in the front and back of the forklift about 20’ away from the lift. This gives pedestrians and other lifts a 2 – 3 second warning that is visible around corners, in racks, or in other blind spot situations.
Giving 2 – 3 seconds of warning also gives the lift driver time to react and stop the forklift. The average forklift weighs 11,000lbs and can range from 6,000 – 40,000lbs when fully loaded. These lifts have long stopping distances and if emergency stopping is attempted it can cause load shifting.
It is important to maintain the lights a consistent distance from the forklift. Pedestrians count on the amount of time they have before the lift arrives and if the distance the light shines from the lift is inconsistent then the time, they have will also be inconsistent.
Inconsistent warning time is more unsafe than no warning time. Ensure that maintenance is installing the lighting and keeping it pointed a consistent distance away on each lift. The lights should be pointed towards the ground 20’ away from the end of the freight to give adequate warning time to pedestrians and other lifts.
Blue Strobe lights are great for nighttime, fog, or other dim areas where traditional accident prevent measures struggle. In these situations, strobe lights are cast further than headlights or blinking lights forklifts come equipped with and can prevent accidents.
Industry does not get to run in sunny daylight. Blue Strobe lights are highly visible in rain, fog, or snow if your lift is used outside and inside blue strobe lights are visible in dim warehouse areas or highly lit docks. They are the most versatile and visible color of safety light.
Blue lights are extremely disruptive to pedestrians. They make people strop and see their surroundings and see the lift where gates and traffic controls do not. In the safety applications it is important that the lights are disruptive to pedestrians – making them STOP and see the hazard. Without keeping their mind on their surroundings and disrupting their conversation with a coworker the safety lights are a pointless investment.
Since the strobe light is 20’ away from the lift it is less intrusive to the lift driver and causes limited productivity and distraction to the lift operator unlike other safety measures in the past. Imagine driving for 8 hours a day in your car with a flashing yellow light. Or, having to honk your horn every three seconds for ten hours.Or, having a beeper that beeps every two seconds for ten hours. Even the best employees get frustrated and distracted by these measures and many find ways to remove them from their lifts.
Adding safety lighting to forklifts has been instrumental in reducing workplace deaths. Since 2013 when safety lights were recommended by OSHA there has been a small but steady decrease in forklift accidents and injuries in the industrial workplace.
Why Blue Lights?
So, why blue lights? Blue strobe lights are programmed to warn us of emergency or danger from the time we are children with police cars and emergency vehicles using them. They scream “Stop” “Look” “Danger”. They are highly visible in most situations.
Blue offers better visibility in warehouses than red, green, or orange when combined with typical industrial lighting, parking lot lighting, and outdoor usage. It also does not blend in with freight, concrete, asphalt, or the typical industrial settings.
Some applications recommend using different color lights on the front and back of a lift. It is not important to pedestrians if a lift is coming head on or backing up and having different colored lights increases initial cost, maintenance cost, and can increase confusion in the warehouse. Keeping a consistent blue light color is best in most applications.
Harvard Medical School suggests that blue wavelength lights can increase attention, decrease reaction times, and increase mood. They are extremely disruptive to the body at night and suppress melatonin twice as long as green lights.
In 24-hour, industrial applications increasing attention and decreasing melatonin can be helpful for the night crew. Working all night has its own set of challenges and inattention and sleepiness is part of those challenges.
Blue LED lighting was also shown to increase memory retention and processing by 33% in a study Neuroscience and Education published in 2018. Blue lighting is disruptive visually but mentally has many benefits.
It is without a doubt the best option for the industrial forklift lighting.