An Assist with Forklift Training

ON April 25, 1995, a 37 year-old shop foreman was fatally injured after the forklift he was operating overturned. The victim was turning while backing down an incline with a four percent grade. The forklift was transporting a 3-foot-high, 150-pound stack of cardboard with the forks raised approximately 60 inches off the ground. The victim was found with his head pinned under the overhead guard. The forklift was not equipped with a seatbelt. (California Department of Health Services, 1996)

In response to the more than 100 deaths and 95,000 injuries from industrial truck accidents each year, OSHA mandated in December 1998 that all forklift operators must be trained and certified for the lift they are operating (1910.178 (l)(1)(i)) by December of the following year.

With more than 1 million powered industrial trucks in use in the industries covered by OSHA standards, employers now face the daunting task of not only training millions of employees, but also ensuring each employee operates only the forklifts for which he is certified. The standard further complicates the situation by requiring refresher training for operators involved in accidents or near-miss incidents, those observed driving in an unsafe manner, or when there are changes in the workplace. With employees far outnumbering managers and shifts running around the clock, how can a safety manager keep up?

Operator Authorization
Shockwatch's® Shockswitch ID is designed to help employers meet OSHA forklift training requirements while also decreasing damage to equipment and facilities from poor driving. The Shockswitch ID integrates with a forklift's ignition system to identify and limit access to trained operators. It requires a driver to "log on" using an iButton green Operators Key that fits a key reader on the unit. Unlike traditional key or code systems, each key has a unique number embedded during manufacturing that cannot be duplicated, providing additional security for industries with high employee turnover. The Shockswitch ID program also can be integrated into an existing card swipe identification system.

The iButton key interfaces between the Shockswitch unit and ShockMate, the monitoring software. Upon setup, the software asks a supervisor for forklift type, an ID number, and driver information, including names and certifications, in a user-friendly format. As each driver is entered, he is assigned an identifying iButton key that is recorded by the software. After entering the data, the supervisor uses a separate manager's key to relay an operators list to each Shockswitch ID-equipped forklift. "Shockswitch ID serves as a tool to ensure that only trained and certified operators operate a specific forklift," said Becky Roccaforte, marketing coordinator.

For added convenience, the software also allows for group configurations, which enable employees to operate forklifts within a specified group of equipment rather than a specific truck. In addition, it alerts the supervisor to the expiration dates of user certifications and allows for easy removal or addition of an employee at any time.

All-Seeing Eyes
In 1998, OSHA estimated forklift accidents resulted in nearly $52 million in accident-related property damage. All too often, employers discover the damage after the fact, and operators aren't always apt to take responsibility for it. Without the fear of accountability, these drivers are likely to continue using unsafe driving habits and ultimately cause more accidents and damage.

Fortunately for employers, the Shockswitch ID and the ShockMate software recognize and record unsafe operation and impact incidents, even when a safety manager isn't looking. The Shockswitch ID unit uses an impact sensor that records the time, date, and driver ID when an impact exceeding the sensor's programmed threshold is sustained. The unit also can be programmed to sound the forklift horn for a specific period of time, or until a supervisor resets it. It can be programmed to disable the forklift upon impact. "We are reducing damage by making people accountable and aware of how they operate industrial equipment," Regional Manager Bill Johel said.

Eddie Clay, technical support specialist, said the system has been shown to save up to 80 percent in damages. While this figure could make even the sternest executive smile, actual forklift operators may be slow to come around to the idea of being constantly watched. "It is negative at first, but your good operators realize it is a tool that will let others recognize their good behavior," Clay said. "It protects good drivers. You have your typical 80 percent/20 percent split. Twenty percent of the drivers create 80 percent of the damage, and our system proves this theory."

In addition to preventing product damage, the program serves to reinforce an organization's safety culture. Many fatal accidents and injuries are the result of a mishandling of the vehicle, said Ron Pignatello, regional manager. "Because our product monitors drivers on the lift 24/7, it is our hope that as managers review data and discover unsafe driving habits, a problem like this will be eliminated before it happens."

As with any safety initiative, even reluctant employees must participate. Roccaforte said several companies supplement the Shockswitch ID program with an incentive program to reward good operators.

Additional Features
The 1998 standard also required that forklifts be examined before being placed into service. Once again, Shockswitch ID's features help with compliance. An operator can use his green iButton key to generate a safety check event (recorded by the software) to indicate he has inspected the lift. While this system is somewhat better than those that require an operator sign a piece of paper at a location far from the forklift, it's really still nothing more than an electronic signature at the forklift that relies entirely on the honor system. In a perfect world, that would be enough.

More useful than the safety check, the program is equipped with a user-programmable timer that measures a lift's active time. When the cumulative active time of a lift exceeds a predetermined value, the Shockswitch ID can be programmed to chirp every 10 seconds to alert the user and/or generate a "maintenance due" event to the ShockMate software. A Blue Maintenance iButton key also serves as a lockout device to deny access to lifts that need maintenance.

ShockMate stores maintenance events and all other downloaded information into an event database that can be sorted and organized to the preferences of the user. Using this information, the software can generate utilization reports, impact frequency reports, and maintenance reports.

Installation and Implementation
To install the Shockswitch ID unit on a forklift, a customer only has to connect three sets of wires, a task that should take no more than an hour and a half, according to Clay. However, the time required to implement the entire program, from inputting data into the ShockMate database and training managers/supervisors to use the equipment and software, is a much larger commitment--and this is probably the program's only downside. "Implementation can take anywhere from two hours to 30 days," Roccaforte said. "This really is a function of what the user puts into it."

"As with any new program, if management backs it, the better off it is going to be," Pignatello said. "Even if management doesn't stay on top of it 100 percent, our units keep working and they can go in at any time and evaluate the system."

With a limited data storage capacity per unit, managers actually will have to stay on top of things and continue to download information if they want to see any of this program's benefits. But with features to aid in compliance, employee safety, and damage prevention, they'd be crazy not to.

Shockswitch ID General Specifications

Operating Temperature

-20 C to +60 C

-4 F to +140 F

Operating Humidity

0 to 100 percent non-condensing

Operating Shock

10G (non-destructive)

100G (destructive)

Case Size

4.33 inches x 4.33 inches x 2.8 inches

Case Material


Case Rating



2.5 lbs.

Power Source

10 to 60 VDC

Impact Detection

User-adjustable threshold sensor

Impact Detection Range

.3G to 7G

Data Storage Capacity

400 events

Data Retrieval

With yellow manager's key

Relay Output

Open contact fused at 5amps

Closed contact fused at 10amps

Output Alarm

Piezoelectric 98db

ShockMate software computer requirements

Win. 95+, six megabytes of hard drive memory, eight megabytes of RAM

This article originally appeared in the July 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Valerie Weadock is a former associate editor of Occuaptional Health & Safety

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