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June 21, 2023

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Electric forklift sounds alert study launched with hopes of increasing safety

An electric forklift sounds alert study has been launched in the UK to enhance safety in the construction industry.

The study aims to address concerns about the quietness of electric forklift trucks and develop a sound alert for forward-moving trucks to alert customers and colleagues. 

Commissioned by Travis Perkins and run with the University of Salford, the study will use visual reality technology and involve operators, colleagues and customers to optimise solutions.

Richard Byrne, HSE & Fleet Director at Travis Perkins, said: “There should always be a safe distance between people and working machinery, but exclusion zones work best if people are alerted as they approach any high-risk areas.
“Given the pioneering nature of this decarbonisation project, research is required to ensure we develop alerts that work well as effective warning systems for both our operators, and the colleagues and customers who may come into contact with our exclusion zones.

“We are committed to lead on decarbonisation, and as an early adopter of electric forklifts this requirement for sound alerts was not something anyone in the industry had foreseen.
“This study is therefore a really important contribution to enhance safety in that it will solve a problem that applies to so many in our industry.”

The study was launched after Travis Perkins staff raised concerns about the quietness of an electric forklift truck compared to a traditional diesel engine, and the potential safety risk this could pose. 

The group has committed to switching up to 1100 diesel forklift trucks with electrics to reduce carbon emissions by up to 6,600 tonnes per year.

They chose to work with the Acoustic Centre for Excellence at University of Salford after the team there completed a similar electric scooter study, with support from Briggs Equipment, the forklift provider to Travis Perkins.

Dr Antonio Torija Martinez, Reader in Acoustical Engineering at Salford University who is leading the study, said: “This work aligns with our strategy to perform excellent research to enable the wider adoption of electric vehicles, and contribute to establishing Salford as a Centre of Excellence on acoustics for e-mobility”.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Tim Walton, who is assisting the study, added: “We will be conducting a series of VR experiments to test some candidate alert sounds from both the perspective of customers of Travis Perkins, and also from the perspective of the machine operators. One of the key things we will be looking at is to balance detectability and operator acceptability.

“Using virtual reality to create immersive and realistic scenarios in a safe and controlled laboratory environment will allow us to achieve robust results. By working closely with Travis Perkins, we can ensure that the sound we develop is the best fit for their needs.”

The outcome of this study will be available later this year and all organisations involved hope to share the findings with industry leaders to promote best practice and implement a new national and international standard electric forklift truck sound alert.

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In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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