Risk Assessment Walk-Through: Forklift Safety & Warehouse Operations
In this edition of our popular “Day in the Life” series, we’re following workers through a typical shift as they operate forklifts in a busy warehouse. We’ll evaluate how they use R-Link’s industry-defining proximity warning capability to easily create and monitor safe zones and exclusion zones so that they can carry out their duties safely and efficiently.
We’ll also review other data collected during their shift, specifically data about the crew’s exposure to noise at work. And we’ll demonstrate how this data can all be overlaid, so that teams have an unprecedented 360-degree view into their risk environment.
With this kind of information at their fingertips, duty holders and Safety Managers can take meaningful action to refine or implement controls, and better protect the health and safety of their teams.
Below is an account of this team’s 1 activities throughout a typical working day in a busy warehouse, including the role that R-Link plays in helping them to create a safer, more efficient working environment.
A day in the life of a connected warehouse operations crew:
Working in a busy warehouse can be a demanding and potentially high-risk job. Many warehouse employees work long shifts during which they are expected to regularly operate heavy machinery, including forklifts, which can be particularly dangerous. In fact, forklift accidents killed one worker every 13 days as of 2023 - that’s 27 workers in just one year.
The crew we’re following in this article is a safety-focussed team that has adopted R-Link to support their compliance efforts and advance their health and safety initiatives. Day-to-day, they rely upon R-Link’s advanced proximity warning technology to help ensure the safety of employees operating in or near vehicles, heavy machinery, and exclusion zones. The team also uses the insights generated by Reactec’s powerful Analytics to help them make better decisions when it comes to monitoring and managing risk in their workplace.
At 0700, several members of the warehouse operations crew arrive to work, including Brad. Brad is a senior member of the crew with several years of experience operating heavy machinery, including forklifts. Brad’s first order of business when he arrives at work is to sign out an R-Link driver’s watch before he begins his shift. When he signs out the watch, his specific driver’s credentials are identified by R-Link, which means that his R-Link watch will automatically pair to the forklift he’s set to operate, and no alerts will be triggered while he’s operating the vehicle. This will also allow Brad to give other workers permission to get close to his vehicle on an as-needed basis throughout the day.
0730 → 1000:
Brad and his crew get to work. Today, they’ve received a large shipment that needs to be unloaded and stored in the warehouse. Brad will be operating the forklift to help move heavy items from the loading dock into the warehouse, and his crew will help.
During this task, which takes several hours, Brad is constantly maintaining his situational awareness to ensure that his crew is safely working near the forklift. When needed, he quickly gives the other members of his crew a digital thumbs-up, so that they can get closer to the forklift without triggering any alerts: At the press of a button, a pedestrian’s watch is instantly reconfigured, allowing them to work nearer the forklift when necessary to carry out their task or assist Brad.
Throughout this task, if any worker gets too close to the forklift without Brad’s permission, both he and the worker are alerted.
1030 → 1200:
Before taking their lunch break, Brad and his crew need to collect some materials, wrap them, pack them onto pallets, and prepare them for delivery to another warehouse.
Since Brad is done working with the forklift for now, he quickly unpairs his R-Link device and exits the forklift. His watch now functions as any other pedestrian’s watch, and he will be alerted if he comes too close to any exclusion zones.
The materials Brad and his crew have been asked to collect are located in an area where repairs are being done on the warehouse. The tools being used to carry out the repairs are loud, and Brad and his crew are working very near the maintenance crew. Fortunately, Brad and the team use Smart Alert intelligent earplugs. This technology informs Brad and his crew when they’re nearing or exceeding potentially dangerous levels of noise exposure throughout the day. While working near the repairs, Brad wasn’t alerted to any unsafe noise conditions.
1215 → 1315:
During lunch, Brad and his crew make their way to a “safe zone” where employees meet for breaks and meals. This safe zone was set up with R-Link and creates an area for workers where they don’t receive any alerts from their devices. After lunch, Brad and his crew forget to tag out of the safe zone, but the R-Link system automatically recognises that they’ve left the area, which means they’re all protected as pedestrians while they walk through the warehouse.
1330 → 1600:
For their last task of the day, Brad’s crew is once again loading and unloading heavy deliveries. Brad is operating the forklift and his crew is assisting. While Brad is operating the forklift, he gets a signal from his manager that he’s needed in another area. He quickly unpairs his device, and exits the vehicle. His teammate, Ben, who also has operator credentials, pairs his R-Link watch with the vehicle and the team carries on with their work, completely uninterrupted.
Uncovering insights and opportunities with accessible Analytics
That evening, Brad’s supervisor logs into her Reactec Analytics dashboard, which automatically collates the information collected by R-Link and displays it in an attractive, digestible format. Immediately, she’s presented with a comprehensive overview of key information related to her team’s workplace risk environment, which she can access and understand without any need for IT involvement. She takes note of a few interesting items:
First, she notices that Brad spent a great deal of time operating a forklift during his shift. This isn’t a problem, but forklift operating requires a great deal of skill and situational awareness, and she knows that Ben is also a certified forklift operator. In the future, she’ll be sure that Brad and Ben share these duties more evenly to avoid either of them operating a forklift while exhausted or unfocused.
She also notices that while Ben and most of his crew weren’t exposed to unsafe levels of noise throughout the workday, the analytics for one member of the team, Nick, show a daily exposure above the EAV (Exposure Action Value). This could mean that Nick’s earplugs aren’t the right size, or he might not be wearing them correctly. She’ll speak with him tomorrow about this issue.
While reviewing the day’s analytics, she uses the heatmap tool to view hotspots in the warehouse. Proximity detection is a key area of focus for risk management in busy warehouses, so this is something that must be checked regularly. Today, she can see that there was increased activity in several areas. It’s crucial to identify hotspots like this, because they can show where and how often potentially dangerous near-misses have occurred, and provide teams with the insight they need to adjust their workflows to avoid incidents in the future.
Understanding the value of R-Link: What would your risk environment look like without it?
On this day, for this team, their exposure to risk from potentially dangerous hazards and noise was relatively low. The team worked efficiently throughout their shift, and the crew remained safe while they operated heavy machinery and worked in a busy warehouse.
But their day could have looked much different, and their exposure to risk from hazards could have been much higher. Moreover, without a solution like R-Link, they likely wouldn’t have known about these issues until an accident happened, or it was too late to take meaningful corrective action.
In the UK alone, a huge amount of workplace accidents are caused when workers are struck by moving objects or vehicles, like forklifts. In 2023, nearly 62,000 workers sustained an injury in this manner. Moreover, the HSE estimates that more than 2 million workers are exposed to unacceptable levels of noise at work, with Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) ranking as the second-most common reason for employers' liability insurance claims for occupational health.
Fortunately, purpose-built solutions for better, more reliable workplace risk management exist, and forward-thinking teams across the UK are reaping the benefits of this technology, which include more confident efforts towards compliance, more streamlined and efficient ways of working, data-driven pathways towards refining controls, and a more comprehensive approach to health and safety at work.
Trusted by over 140,000 workers throughout the UK, the Reactec ecosystem of workplace wearable technology is a comprehensive solution for crews looking to level-up their approach to occupational risk monitoring and management. It’s a proven way to drive better health and safety outcomes for workers, and to enhance efficiency and productivity on worksites.
1. This team is fictional, and our assessment of their exposure to risk is based on a fictional account of a typical working day. To produce this timeline, we relied on our extensive real-life interactions with crews operating in warehouse environments.