Beep, beep, beep! Do you recognize that sound? It’s a sound of a forklift on a job site backing up. Many forklifts today are installed with an alarm to alert nearby employees that the forklift is backing up. Too often an employee working in the area will be backed over by the forklift because the operator was unaware of the employee in the danger area, and the employee was unaware of the forklift operator backing up. There were 194 fatalities caused by back over vehicle accidents between 2005 and 2010. Alternative methods to alarms are using spotters and workstation isolation for forklifts, but these methods are very costly and inefficient to the company. OSHA does not require forklifts to have a backup alarm system installed in the forklift. Although, OSHA does strongly encourage the use of a backup alarm on forklifts, and many manufacturers have been installing backup alarms in more of their forklift products.
Alarm systems have been proven to prevent back over accidents, but there is still controversy on the subject. Some manufacturers and companies believe that backup alarms on forklifts do not make them safer. They claim that excessive noise exposure to the backup alarms cause the operator annoyance, fatigue, and hearing loss. The operator starts to assume employees clear the area of travel when the alarm goes off instead of looking in the direction of travel. The employees working in the same area with the forklifts become used to the alarm and start ignoring the sound putting them at risk.
OSHA regulations for general industry under electric power generation, transmission, and distribution 29 CFR 1910.269(p)(1)(ii) says that a motor vehicles or earthmoving or compacting equipment with an obstructed rear view must have a reverse signal alarm audible above the surrounding noise level, or the vehicle should have a spotter to safely signal the vehicle to move backwards. Other, OSHA standards do not specifically require powered industrial trucks, for example a forklift, to have backup alarm systems installed for when the vehicle is moving backwards. Although, in OSHA standards for the maritime industry 29 CFR 1917.43(c)(5) and 29 CFR 1917.65(f)(1) it says that removing the manufacturer’s safety devices from industrial vehicle is prohibited. These safety devices would include back alarms.
There is a lot of research being done on backup alarms. Most of the research focuses on the sound level of the backup alarm. Research has been done to measure the sound level needed in different situations. Each job site is different and creates a different level of sound. The backup alarm needs to be heard by employees around the forklift but does not necessarily need to be heard by everyone on the job site. The alarm must be about 10dBA higher than the ambient sound level around the forklift at the job site. They also focus on the direction the sound moves. The sound waves only need to move in the direction the forklift is going to move. Manufacturers have been researching technology to allow the sound level of the backup alarms to be self-adjusting. The alarm will be able to sense the ambient noise in the area and adjust the volume of the alarm according to the noise level of the area. There has also been research into a backup alarm system that only goes off if there is an employee nearby. It will be able to sense if someone is in the danger the zone.
Here are a couple videos on backup safety and forklift safety: