Skip links

Man and Machine Must Work in Closer Harmony

Man and Machine Must Work in Closer Harmony

PRCSH33 18th October 2010

Advances in technology have led to a dramatic fall in the number of accidents involving fork lift trucks and other handling equipment at UK ports, but now the focus is falling on changing driver behaviour to create a safer and more productive working environment, writes David Cooper, Managing Director of Cooper SH.

Recent figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal that there were four fatal accidents reported at cargo handling facilities between 2001 and 2009, with the last reported incident in 2003/4 – a year when three people were killed.

When accidents involving serious injuries are taken into account, a clearer pattern emerges, with the number of incidents reported falling from a recent high of 64 in 2004/2005 to just 30 in 2008/2009.

A more detailed analysis of the figures show that around 26 accidents were attributed to incidents involving vehicles operating in UK ports, including forklifts and mobile cranes. Interestingly all but eight of these incidents occurred before 2006, suggesting that significant improvements have been made in regards to the safe operation of mobile materials handling equipment.

This progress can be attributed to a number of factors not least the introduction of new technology on the latest generation of trucks and other vehicles. Recent innovations have included curve control technology that prevents drivers from turning too quickly and therefore reducing the risk of vehicles overturning. Many of the systems available on the market are able to continuously monitor speed and the position of the steering wheel, reducing speed automatically if the driver turns too sharply.

These systems can now be complemented with additional hydraulic devices that stop trucks from becoming unstable on inclines.

Another important development is the introduction of radio frequency identification devices (RFID) and Konecranes – a market leader when it comes to container movement and storage – recently introduced its Nearguard system, which should further improve port and terminal safety. The innovative safety alert system features sensors fitted to each corner of the truck that locates nearby objects by reacting to RFID tags. These tags can be placed on other mobile equipment or even safety clothing worn by other people on the site and the driver is alerted to their proximity by an audible alarm and a colour screen.

As effective as such technology has been, the statistics suggest that the steady reduction in the number of accidents has now levelled out and a new approach is needed if our ports and cargo terminals are to become an even safer place to work.

Technology will obviously play a significant part but the focus must now shift to driver and operator behaviour and in many respects they are being combined. For example, Konecranes has also launched an alcohol prohibiter device that drivers must breath into before operating the vehicle.

However, devices such as this only target one extreme of poor behaviour and for a sustained improvement in safety a more holistic approach must be taken in the longer-term.

Technology can never fully eliminate human error and so cargo operators must combine investment in vehicles with appropriate training. This training needs to go beyond simple instruction on how to use the equipment but look at almost every aspect of their behaviour in the workplace.

The benefits of such an approach go far beyond meeting necessary legal health and safety requirements – or even a moral obligation to ensure that lives are not shattered by unnecessary accidents.

In today’s economic environment it is more important than ever to eliminate unnecessary costs and the link between business efficiency and health and safety has become increasingly important.

It is in this area that developing new technology that specifically targets driver behaviour is set to have most impact. Vehicle monitoring systems have been around for a while, but the next generation are being fine tuned to make a real impact on driver behaviour.

A typical example of poor practice that impacts on both safety and efficiency is the tendency of drivers to increase engine speed in the belief that it will provide optimum hydraulic performance. In reality, maximum performance is reached at approximately two-thirds of maximum engine speed but many drivers continue to work the accelerator pedal in the mistaken belief they are getting more power.

The result is more fuel burned, increased CO2 emissions and greater wear and tear on the vehicle – not to mention a greater risk of accidents from adopting such an aggressive operating style.

Previous management systems have been able to monitor overall fleet performance but systems such as Konecrane’s ECO Drive provide information on the performance of individual trucks.

The onboard computerised system provides real-time information on operation times, use of hydraulics, number of lifts, idling time and fuel used and the raw data can then provide an overall picture of performance.

And, as each driver has to log on before the truck will start it is possible to compare the performance of operators, making it easy to identify those with poor driving styles. As a result managers can target training more effectively whilst encouraging those that perform well to share best practice.

The past few decades may have seen a huge reduction in accidents and a significant improvement in efficiency but if they are to continue to improve, then more effort is needed to ensure that technology enables man and machine to work in even closer harmony.

David Cooper is Managing Director of Cooper SH, the largest independent supplier of port and terminal equipment in the UK. It is also the country’s main distributor of the Konecranes equipment range, that includes reachstackers, heavy lift trucks, ship-to-shore cranes gantry canes, straddle carriers and terminal tractors.