Solid Waste & Recycling


Slow Down!

Safety is a top concern for most facility supervisors. But when your job involves the management of waste, it's especially important. When it's nuclear waste and other hazardous materials, safety isn'...

Safety is a top concern for most facility supervisors. But when your job involves the management of waste, it’s especially important. When it’s nuclear waste and other hazardous materials, safety isn’t simply an important consideration — it’s a religion. For Jay Morris, that included ensuring that all forklift drivers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s nuclear facilities were complying 100 per cent with the posted 15 mile per hour speed limit.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is part of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) within the Department of Energy (DOE). Managed by the University of California for the U.S. government, the laboratory includes a treatment and temporary storage facility for nuclear waste. On any given day, forklifts are being used within a fenced-in compound to carry drums of radioactive material from the facility’s R&D lab to a holding building where they’re properly packaged, labeled and loaded onto trucks to be sent to disposal facilities.

Rigorous studies conducted by the federal government concluded that 15 mph is the maximum speed that the forklifts could safely travel within the compound. Getting the driver’s to obey the speed limit was the easy part. Proving it to federal safety regulators was a different story.

“We first installed governors on the engines of each forklift to ensure the trucks couldn’t over accelerate,” said Morris, “but that wasn’t enough. As a nuclear facility, safety inspections are both frequent and thorough and one issue that kept coming up was our ability to positively document forklift speed compliance. What if someone tampered with the engines? What if an outside forklift was being used? What if we bought new forklifts and forgot to install the speed-regulating equipment?”

The idea of how to satisfy both state and federal regulators came to Morris one morning as he was driving to work.

“When I entered the facility’s main gate I noticed that security was using radar speed signs to regulate traffic speed around the larger campus. The signs gave instant visual feedback of each car’s actual speed — it also gave me an idea of how to assure the safety inspectors.”

Three years ago, Morris had Lawrence Livermore Labs install two radar speed signs within the fenced-in hazardous waste compound. Now inspectors could see for themselves that drivers were driving at the proper speed. Since forklift trucks don’t have speedometers, the signs also serve as feedback for the drivers. Internal data-collecting technology onboard each sign can also provide a detailed history of all traffic passing by and the speed at which they were traveling.

Since the radar speed signs have been installed, Morris has been promoted to LLNL’s department superintendent. And while he is no longer directly responsible for ensuring forklift safety, years later the signs continue to provide inspectors with the proof they need that regulations are being enforced.

Standard fare at corporate facilities

According to Scott Kelley, founder of Information Display company, a leading manufacturer and distributor of radar speed signs, there has been a significant increase in the number of radar speed signs being used on and around corporate facilities. With ongoing concern over forklift-related safety issues, the signs are becoming standard fare in warehouses, on loading docks, around parking lots and other places where maintaining and observing speed limits is an essential safety component.

“Studies show that a majority of workplace speeders are not intentionally breaking the rules but are focused on the task at hand, rather than safety,” says Kelley. “Radar speed signs are particularly effective because they re-focus the driver’s attention to their speed. Since forklifts rarely have speedometers, the signs take the guesswork out of critical safety concerns.”

According to the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) there are over half a million forklift-related accidents reported in the United States each year — nearly 100 of these accidents result in one or more deaths.

“Studies show that it doesn’t require exuberant speeds to do damage with a forklift,” Kelley says. “It’s a very different situation than a vehicle on the open road hitting a pedestrian at 10 MPH. The threats from a 5000-pound forklift moving through a warehouse at 10mph with a 4,000-pound load include dropping that load on someone or crushing someone between very heavy objects, not to mention potentially disastrous damage to equipment and facilities.”

West Linn Paper Company

Paper may not seem as dangerous as nuclear waste, but when it’s rolled up into huge half-ton spindles and carried via forklift from warehouse to loading dock, the potential for disaster is real. Peggy Closner, shipping-receiving supervisor at West-Linn Paper knew that forklifts-related accidents cause thousands of employee injuries each year. She also knew that a significant number of these accidents were related to excessive speed.

Enforcing the loading dock’s eight mph speed limit was difficult at best. Even drivers with the best intentions often got caught up in the “heat of the battle.” Without a speedometer to keep them on track, forklift drivers often found themselves flying from place to place.

“We knew we had to do something,” said Closner. “We tried installing speedometers on the trucks but with all the vibrations they never seemed to last very long. Then it struck me that the same type of sign used to display the speed of passing vehicles on public roads could be equally effective on our company campus.”

Two years ago, West Linn Paper installed a radar speed sign in a critical area of the loading dock. The drivers now see the posted speed limit as well as an instant reading of their own current speed. With a quick upward glance from her office, Closner too can see if the driver is obeying the posted limit.

Now when a forklift driver passes by Peggy Closner’s office, a quick glance up at the radar speed sign puts a smile on her face. She knows that the driver is obeying the speed limit. More importantly, she knows that she has helped reduce potential accidents for those who look to her to keep them safe.

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John Dixon is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.

OSHA’s Forklift Safety Facts

* There are nearly 100 forklift fatalities in the U.S. each year.

* Forklifts are involved in over 34,000 serious injuries and 61,000 non-serious injuries annually.

* Forklift-related fatalities occur most likely in manufacturing facilities (42 percent), construction (23.8 percent) wholesale trades (12.5 percent).

* An average forklift carrying a moderate load and moving at 10 mph takes approximately 40 feet to stop.

* A 5,000-pound forklift moving through a warehouse at 10mph with a 4,000-pound load has a potential destructive force of a Cadillac Eldorado driving 20mph.

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