An Assist with Forklift Training
- By Valerie Weadock
- Jul 01, 2003
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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
-20 C to +60 C
-4 F to +140 F
0 to 100 percent non-condensing
4.33 inches x 4.33 inches x 2.8 inches
10 to 60 VDC
User-adjustable threshold sensor
Impact Detection Range
.3G to 7G
Data Storage Capacity
With yellow manager's key
Open contact fused at 5amps
Closed contact fused at 10amps
ShockMate software computer requirements
Win. 95+, six megabytes of hard drive memory, eight megabytes of
This article originally appeared in the July 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Valerie Weadock is a former associate editor of Occuaptional Health & Safety