Forklift ergonomics has to do with operator comfort, but the heart of the issue is how the ergonomics of industrial trucks affect the long-term health and productivity of forklift operators. Full-time forklift operators are typically seated all day, except for when they’re climbing in and out of the truck. Beyond the sitting and climbing, there’s the bending and twisting required when backing up. Furthermore, bumps and jolts can be detrimental to an operator’s musculoskeletal system.
Of course, as technology advances and awareness increases, manufacturers are improving forklift ergonomics through various design enhancements. The responsibility for operator health lies with employers as well as operators. Both need to be intelligent about the ways in which employees interact with the truck and the way the workplace environment affects the comfort and safety of forklift operators and all personnel.
Manufacturers have improved ergonomics through better suspension on trucks, which softens the impact of bumps, meaning reduced stress on the operator. This stress, or lack thereof, adds up over time. Whereas forklifts with poor ergonomic design can cause poor posture or repetitive strain, well-designed ergonomics help protect the driver from injuries such as back and neck problems. As a result, ergonomic features, such as adjustable seats that can swivel; seat-side hydraulic controls or mini-levers; rear assist grips with horn button and tilting steering columns are now commonly available through Toyota’s product line.
Operators can be better to their bones and muscles by taking a few simple measures. By driving slower, bumps will become less jarring, as will braking. Stretching before shifts and taking breaks will go a long way to prepare the body for the demands of extended forklift usage. Other measures include removing one’s wallet from a back pocket, customizing the forklift’s adjustable features and, of course, wearing a seat belt.
While these procedures are the responsibility of the operator to carry out, it’s clear that enacting them will—to a large degree—depend on management. Employers generally understand that they need to emphasize employee safety as priority number one. We could say that safety goes before productivity, but it’s more accurate to say that the two are inseparable. Injuries, while tragic, are also an interruption to work days, and they sideline valuable employees. Most everyone knows this already. However, what many don’t realize is that the demands of forklift operation after time can really tax the body, and the most experienced operators have likely endured the greatest stress. The best way to ensure longevity is to:
- Smooth out the bumps
- Establish a speed limit for forklifts
- Make sure operators are getting adequate breaks
- Purchase ergonomically designed forklifts
- Install ergonomic accessories (better seats, rear assist grips, etc.)
- Make sure all forklift operators are wearing seat belts