Forklifts and Smartphones Don’t Always Mix

Photo courtesy of Linde Material Handling

Walk down any street, stroll through any park, or even drive along any highway and you will see people staring at their smartphones. In just a few years, iPhones, Samsung Galaxys, and other mobile devices have gone from a luxury enjoyed by a very few to a necessity used by practically everybody.

So where does that put a forklift operator? Are drivers looking at their phones as much as everybody else these days? The answer may surprise you.

Forklifts and Smartphones

Forklift drivers are people, too. So if the general public is glued to their smartphones, it’s a good bet at least some lift truck operators are as well.

Yet driving any type of vehicle while distracted — especially a multi-ton industrial machine loaded with pallet full of products — is inherently dangerous. Drivers need to keep their eyes on the road, not on their phones.

In fact, an episode of the popular TV program “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel proved that driving while distracted by a smartphone is just as dangerous as driving while under the influence of alcohol. You wouldn’t want your forklift drivers to drink behind the wheel. So why should they be allowed to look at their smartphones?

Many states have begun raising the penalties for distracted driving. And a lot of police departments are finally focusing on enforcement. But while all this is happening on public roadways, in the aisles and docks of workplaces the problem may be getting worse rather than better.

Developing Technology

That’s partly because the race is on among materials handling technology providers to create web-based streaming media that can “assist” forklift operators. New products are being rolled out that feature smartphones mounted on forklift dashboards that transmit essential information to drivers as they are behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

Fortunately, physics is getting in the way. Thanks to the jostling, stop-and-start nature of forklift operating, tablets and smartphones are reportedly flying off these vehicles and getting smashed into pieces with great frequency, leading to higher than expected replacement costs.

So what’s the solution? Audio transmissions that don’t require drivers to look away from their work? Transparent projections onto the vehicle’s windshield that operators can see as they continue to drive their vehicles? “Google Glass” type smart spectacles that allow workers to see augmented reality?

The future will tell. And with so many companies working to combine forklifts with new technology, it probably won’t be long before better and safer products are introduced into the marketplace.

Until then, it’s up to management to discourage unauthorized smartphone use while drivers are behind the wheels of their forklifts. And it’s up to drivers to pay attention to what they are doing at all times.

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