Yale introduced a Pedestrian Awareness Light (PAL) option to their forklift trucks back in May 2015 but why are these safety lights so vital to warehouse operations and how have they evolved over time?
A major contributing factor to accidents and near misses in warehouses are due to blind spots where forklifts and pedestrians work alongside each other. This is especially true when loading and unloading trailers as many operators are on a tight schedule and perform this task quickly in order to increase their productivity.
Forklift warning devices such as, strobe lights and back up alarms have been around for decades and many forklift manufacturers consider including them as part of their forklift safety package, however in general industry they are not required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Back up alarms may be required by OSHA depending on the type of construction equipment; however it has been suggested that many forklift operators may be dislike this safety addition hearing the noise on a daily basis. The problem arises when they are ignored to a large degree due to the regularity of the noise and the fact that pedestrians become immune to the sound of the warning over time, which ultimately defeats the object of installing the alarms in the first place.
Another unwelcomed addition is strobe lights which may distract and annoy operators when flashing into their eyes throughout the day. Its common practice to see operators trying to sabotage such systems by disconnecting them, breaking them or covering them but this could lead to legal action. Safety devices which are displayed on forklifts but are not functional are an OSHA violation.
However, it seems that the new blue light system has been universally accepted by all and a great alternative to the above. This is because these lights allow operators to see their distance clearly, what direction they are travelling and how fast they are moving within a limited visibility warehouse. Pedestrians also get a clear warning light informing them that danger is on its way and will begin to associate this light with danger.
The blue spot light was introduced in the US around 2013 and now many blue lights are produced overseas in China and Taiwan, as it’s more cost effective to produce LED lights outside of the US. But it is important to note that like buying a forklift, buying a blue light needs to be tested thoroughly to ensure it works correctly and ultimately has the potential to save lives.
One such company which has introduced Pedestrian Awareness Lights (PAL’s) onto their trucks is Spanish manufacturer, Borges. Jochen Harmeling, Director of Logistics explains how the lights have improved efficiency in their warehouse: “Pedestrian Awareness Lights have allowed us to increase efficiency of the working environment in the plant without affecting noise levels, thanks to the higher visibility of trucks moving inside the warehouse.”
Most companies decide to mount their blue lights onto the rear of their trucks, since the majority of the time forklifts are in reverse and this is when most accidents occurs. Some also decide to mount them onto the front of their truck, which at times may block the light beam during forward travel, however it is possible to avoid this by adding a blue light in one direction and an red in another to inform pedestrians and other forklifts that they are approaching.
Matthew Allen, Yale engineering manager states: “Offering a choice of colours means that the Yale solution can be used on different types of floors, for example the red spotlight may be suited to grey or blue surfaces, while the blue light offers better visibility on red or brown floors.”
When the lights are mounted near the rear of the truck they should be wired in such a way that they only work when the truck is moving in reverse; however many companies are being instructed to wire the lights so that they are always. This again, defeats the object of using the lights as a warning to pedestrians.
The new Yale ‘Blue Point ‘projects a highly visible pattern onto the floor which creates a warning sign to pedestrians that danger is approaching and will be especially useful in noisy environments where audible warnings may be missed and at blind spots when direct visibility is limited. Mr Allen, states the benefits it can bring to operators too: “As well as providing visual notice to pedestrians in the warehouse, the lights can warn operators of other mobile equipment, preventing damage to goods and equipment.”