7 Tips to Improve Safety and Environmental Practices at Your Plant

Joe Bolduc More From This Author

Wed, Dec 18, 2019

safety-and-environmental-practicesRemember pop quizzes? I’m not your fifth-grade teacher, but I’ve got a one-question version for you. What can be the most unmanageable asset involved in plant operations?

If your answer was a forklift, you get a gold star.

While forklift accidents are only a small fraction of overall workplace accidents, accidents can be serious.

Why can forklifts be dangerous?

  • They Move – High-velocity facilities have forklifts that are constantly moving.  They have operators driving them.  Stuff happens, ‘nuff said!
  • Weight – They can be up to 9,000 pounds, which is much heavier than the typical car.
  • Speed – Lifts can top out at 18mph or so (though lots of facilities limit this drastically to take the risk way down). Plus, they only have brakes in the back, making stopping quickly more difficult (and more likely to cause flipping).
  • Uneven weight distribution – If the operator is not thinking through what they are lifting, they can make the lift uneven in weight--making it more difficult to maneuver and increasing the chance of tipping over during tight turns.
  • Obstructed views – If a load is high, then the driver can have trouble seeing—not to mention, it can throw off the balance.
  • Power and maintenance – This is one of the most overlooked – and preventable – factors when it comes to safety and environmental issues. Choosing the correct power source and maintaining it correctly can prevent a myriad of safety issues. After all, techs are dealing with everything from electrical systems to chemical processes in the battery -- and that’s not even taking into account the heavy lifting involved in transferring extremely large batteries in and out when swapping them. (More on this below!)

In short: if you’re a safety exec or an operator who oversees a distribution center, you have a difficult job: you have to meet internal safety and environmental goals in a facility that operates forklifts.

As you probably already know, the cost of a safety accident to a company can be massive. Risk experts say that if you take the basic cost of losing a case -- be it a worker’s comp case, a general liability case, or any other court case -- the final cost to the business is actually two-and-a-half to four times the actual cost of the case. So, if a plaintiff wins a case for $200,000, by the time everything is finally settled, the actual cost to the company will be between $500,000-800,000.

In short, preventative effort pays for itself. As the saying goes, “A good doctor treats the disease, but a great doctor treats the cause.” With that in mind, here are some tips to strengthen your safety/environmental programs and help you hit your internal goals.

1. Have clear operational standards and train forklift operators well.

The role of the safety operator is crucial. Nothing will more effectively improve the safety of your operations than having clear Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) documentation and training your team well.

After all, these are the people responsible for their own safety and the safety of everyone else in the plant. Don’t assume that everyone has the same understanding of standards—especially since new employees join your workforce year-round. Make sure you train new employees and have refreshers for existing ones. While it may be tempting to think ongoing training is costly, l would encourage you to go back and look at the costs of just one lawsuit.

2. Choose a sustainable power source

Lead-acid batteries are 99.7% recyclable: they are the number one circular economy product in the world. In other words, they are designed to be recycled. Recycling your batteries correctly means that your business is putting fewer contaminants back into the earth, air, or water; it also means that you will have done important work to offset greenhouse gas emissions.

3. Maintain Batteries Correctly

Proper watering, charging, and maintenance of batteries is, first and foremost, a safety issue: it’s a crucial step to making sure that you avoid environmental hazards and accidents such as lead acid and chemical spills.

Not only that, failing to maintain your batteries optimally means that you may actually be actively destroying the batteries through incorrect business processes. The top five mistakes typically made maintaining batteries are:

  1. Using improper charging practices
  2. Not watering batteries properly
  3. Using the wrong charger
  4. Not planning for extreme temperatures
  5. Having the wrong size(s) and number of batteries

Addressing each of these five areas will help ensure the longest lifespan for your batteries. (Check out these tips for safe battery handling!)

4. Support Pedestrian Safety

Your truck drivers go through a training program, but unfortunately, pedestrians don’t. That’s partially why twenty percent of fatal forklift accidents involve a worker on foot being struck by a truck, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 

Making sure your forklifts are equipped with safety features like horns, lights, mirrors, and traffic signals is key. Also designate certain areas for pedestrians, particularly high-traffic areas near breakrooms and bathrooms.

5. Perform Preventative Maintenance on Trucks

Another way to make everyone safer is a regular, preventative maintenance schedule for your lift fleet.

That pedestrian safety we talked about earlier? Responsive, well-maintained brakes and tires with traction are key. Maintenance can also ensure there are no other issues that will cause a forklift to be less responsive in an emergency.

But maintenance isn’t just about safety. Regular maintenance also extends the life of your fleet, which has definite environmental benefits. After all, if you extend the life of a forklift, you’ll buy fewer assets and reduce your footprint. Not to mention, regular maintenance reduces CO2 emissions.

6. Use the Right Chargers

The battery charger you choose has consequences for your business: it can increase battery life, reduce the number of batteries you need, and improve your business’ overall productivity. And since the right charger helps avoid charging accidents, the charger you select may also help make your workplace safer.

Battery chargers are crucial when it comes to making your battery fleet more environmentally friendly, too. That’s because the energy that’s used to keep batteries charged is the “dominant driver of the carbon footprint” in a company with a significant battery fleet. Because of this, choosing the right size and the right type of charger is crucial to conserving energy by maximizing battery more efficiency.

7. Reduce the Number of Forklifts and Batteries You’re Using

There’s a reason that “reduce” is the first part of the phrase “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” One of the best ways to make your battery fleet safer and more environmentally friendly is to reduce the size of it in the first place. This might seem counterintuitive -- you might be used to worrying about whether you have enough power on hand, not about how to make cuts to it. The “best of both worlds” approach is to conduct a data study to determine your actual needs, and then to use that data to engineer a power solution.

In our experience, the data almost always reveals that companies can actually reduce the number of batteries, which has a ripple effect: it reduces the amount of acid in your building, the potential for spills, and the deadweight in the battery room. All of this combined makes for more efficient operations.

Another way to reduce the number of forklifts and batteries you’re using is through an item mentioned earlier: proper maintenance. Maintaining your batteries and trucks lengthens their lifespan, which can significantly reduce the number of both you need to purchase. This is a win from an environmental standpoint and a budget standpoint.

In the same way that you’d outsource your recycling to a certified recycler, consider outsourcing your battery fleet to a company that specializes in techniques to reduce both your safety risks and your environmental impact.

Reducing your battery fleet is an unexpected, but effective way of making your business safer and more environmentally friendly -- while still allowing you to hit all of your supply chain goals.

What’s the best way to make your power system safer? At Concentric, we’re a believer in using data as the basis for all improvements. Being armed with knowledge is especially useful when it comes to safety and environmental issues.

Concentric’s power assessments involve 30 days of data. Our power study leverages a team of power experts to deliver you a customized power solution. Using data, Concentric is usually able to help you reduce your fleet by up to 30%, which helps you create a significantly safer and greener work environment.

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