Lift Truck Tips: Keep lift truck operators in one place
March 01, 2013 - MMH Editorial
Operating a lift truck all day can be physically demanding. With an eye toward improving operator comfort, many lift truck manufacturers have been developing standard and optional ergonomic features to reduce an operator’s stress and strain. Fingertip controls can replace hydraulic levers to minimize upper body exertion. Seat suspension can alleviate lower back pain. But to really boost comfort and productivity, the end-user should work not only to ensure the operator is comfortable in his seat, but that he stays there as often as possible.
According to Nebojsa “Beck” Trajkovic, electric product planning specialist with Toyota Material Handling U.S.A., ergonomics have such an impact on productivity that customers can even build a justification for new equipment based on ergonomics alone.
“Customers understand more than ever how ergonomics play an important role in not only reducing fatigue, but keeping the operator productive,” Trajkovic says. “If you’re trying to keep the operator as comfortable as possible, their amount of movement is directly related.”
With each new generation of lift truck, more ergonomic features become standard, such as fully suspended seats, smaller steering wheels to reduce strain to shoulders, and a lower front cowl, which improves visibility. Improvements in visibility lead to a reduction in movement, since viewing the forks, the load and any obstructions requires less craning, leaning and stretching. Minimizing leaning is not just a good practice, says Trajkovic, it’s an activity monitored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Leaning out of a truck is a citable offense, says Trajkovic, and thus a clear indicator of a problem.
But some of the most ergonomically friendly aftermarket options for lift trucks, such as integrated scales and fork positioners, are not presented expressly as ergonomic solutions. Scales reduce the need for an operator to exit and enter the lift truck to weigh a load, while the ability to bypass a stationary scale creates more direct routes for load movement. Fork positioners reduce the likelihood of hand injury, speed up productivity, and, again, keep the operator firmly planted in the seat.
For operators in some applications, repeated entry and exit is unavoidable. In this case, there are features that lessen the difficulty of frequent dismounts. In addition to more spacious floor space and a lower step height, lift trucks can be fitted with a swivel-seat option to reduce twisting motions. These seats can also lock at an angle to minimize lower back strain for rear-facing operators.
The justification starts with listening to operators, or providing a channel for feedback. Best of all, says Trajkovic, is that “happy operators will always lead to increased productivity.”