Forklift backup alarms have the potential to prevent as many as 20 deaths from pedestrian-forklift accidents and reduce up to 7,000 or more injuries each year. Backup alarms can also reduce management costs making reliance on the forklift operator to sound the horn or the supervisor to supervise the operator unnecessary. While forklift backup alarms can’t be used in all situations, especially when the ambient sound level in a work area is too great or the physical work site’s dimension is too small, they make up for human shortcomings and mistakes made by pedestrians, operators and supervisors. Still, there’s no substitute for spotters, workstation isolation and setting restrictive corridors as a means of protecting forklifts.
While OSHA recommends backup alarms on forklifts, its power to enforce them is limited. This is why OSHA relies on barrier islands, secured workstation design and segregated forklift routes. So if there’s no strict legal limit on forklift backup alarms, why add one to a forklift? Because as long as a forklift’s backup alarm is effective, your business is free from the cost of maintaining a spotter.
To make your forklift’s backup alarm as effective as possible, you’ll need to determine the specific distance corresponding to warning response, giving pedestrians an optimum distance and direction at which they should hear the alarm. This distance should be around four seconds of travel time in any given work site. This may be as easy as reducing overall environmental sound levels. Sound is measured in decibels. Humans in laboratories can barely recognize a change of 6 decibels. You may wish to measure the sound in your warehouse or work area from any given point to your listening position or mathematically if you know the level and distance of the sound at another point. A backup alarm should be 10 dBA higher than the work area’s ambient sound level with the maximum periodic sound from a backup alarm at 25 feet no more than 80 dBA.12.
In addition to sound, more things can be manipulated to improve a backup alarm’s effectiveness. Forklift backup alarms can be placed at a higher level, focusing the direction of the sound wave at the desired listeners without sending unwanted tones randomly through the warehouse or workplace. Another improvement is using self-adjusting backup alarms that sense the ambient noise in a work area and automatically self-adjust to 10 decibels higher than that level. This limits sound pollution and improves both the directionality and overall sound level. Another improvement is the Pre Backup Ground Personnel Alerting Devices 14. This device warns the driver of a vehicle that the potential of a collision exists when the radar pattern is interrupted and detection of an obstacle is made. When this happens the driver’s buzzer/light device is activated in the cab warning the driver.
For Forklift backup alarms to be effective their sound waves should focus into a zone where it will be most useful, with the alarm set to about 10 decibels above the average sound level in the work area and allowing targeted pedestrians four seconds of response time. Forklift backup alarms are much more common in warehouses and work areas than before. Frequently considered multi-use vehicles, forklifts have many sympathetic uses requiring alarms. Using forklift backup alarms can prevent injuries and save lives. Manufacturers and dealers have made great strides in recent years designing new equipment to address sound, making warehouses and work areas safer places for everyone involved.