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Reaching coldstores safely

London, UK: In food and drink operations the particular risks and challenges of reach trucks are often overlooked, says Laura Nelson, managing director, RTITB, the transport accrediting body.

Working with a reach truck in a cold store presents particular changes that even experienced reach truck operators may not have encountered before

In some food and drink operations the particular risks and challenges of reach trucks may be misunderstood and overlooked. Operators and supervisors often assume that they’re the same, or similar, to counterbalance lift trucks. However, specific training is required for reach truck operators.

Different Truck Categories
Coldstore reach trucks come in various categories, so different skills, and different training, is required for safe and efficient operation. However, many employers mistakenly think if an operator is trained to operate one type of reach truck, they are automatically qualified to operate them all. In fact, operators must complete conversion training to gain the competence and qualifications to operate other categories of reach truck.

Operators are most commonly trained on D1 category rider operated reach trucks, which covers lifting up to eight metres. However, industrial racking systems can often extend beyond this. Operators that must lift to heights above eight metres require a higher level of skill, and therefore, appropriate operator conversion training is usually needed. Another example is the A8 category stand-on reach truck. Even if an operator has been trained to operate a reach truck from a seated position, they normally require different training to equip them with the skills for this particular truck category.

Working at Height
The drive-in and drive-through racking systems used in coldstore warehouses with reach truck operations are different to those that counterbalance forklift operators encounter. For instance, with increased racking height, there is increased risk. Operators must receive training that equips them to operate safely at height, with accuracy, efficiency and an understanding of the specific differences and risks posed by racking systems.

Travelling on Inclines
Travelling on inclines poses considerable risks for reach truck operations, especially in a coldstore where floor conditions may become icy. Working on inclines is not commonplace, and should be avoided wherever possible, but it’s important for operators to understand that some situations will require this. Reach truck operator training must include the safest method of negotiating an incline, with consideration of the drive and braking systems. Although trucks from different manufacturers offer varied levels of braking effectiveness on inclines, certain characteristics remain consistent. For example, the drive wheel on a reach truck is at the rear, (the opposite end to the reach legs and forks). So, to maintain traction when travelling on an incline, the forks and load should face uphill, as the rear wheel has the greater force applied to it, and downhill travel should be negotiated with the forks trailing.

Assistive Technology
Assistive technology is becoming more common to support operators with handling food and drink loads. Cameras and LCD screens, for example, are used to aid the operator’s judgement of fork and load positioning. Although assistive technology can be useful it should never take the place of the right training, at the right level, for the right type of equipment. Devices designed to aid stacking and de-stacking should only be used to assist, and not relied upon. If the technology fails for some reason, the operator must be sufficiently trained so they are competent in continuing the reach truck operation safely without it.

Stability
The stability and centre of gravity of a reach truck differs to a counterbalance truck because they are designed to reach towards the racking further than their stabilising legs. Operators must understand the truck’s centre of gravity, load capacity, and the effects that load weight has on the truck when at height, or with the reach extended. Without this, a truck tip-over could occur, which can be potentially fatal. Therefore, it’s crucial that this is covered in operator training.

Steering and Operating Position
The load on a reach truck is positioned to the right of the operator, unlike a counterbalance truck, where the operator faces forward, with the load in front. While all-round observation is important for operating any moving vehicle, reach truck operators must be taught to look in the direction of travel and be aware of additional blind spots. These can be caused by the load, operating positions, overhead guard, or even the mast.

Reach Mechanisms and Reach-Legs
In every movement, the reach-legs must be taken into consideration. The primary function of a reach truck is to extend its carriage or mast forwards along its reach-legs to pick up a load. The truck then shortens, holding the load within the confines of the truck for secure transport. A truck’s reach mechanism can be in the form of a moveable mast, a pantograph mechanism, or a telescopic mechanism. All mechanisms function differently, and it’s important for operators to understand these differences. In addition, the varying types of reach mechanism are designed to suit different types of operation. This highlights the need for specific job training and familiarisation training once basic training has been completed.

Coldstore Considerations
Working with a reach truck in a cold store presents particular changes that even experienced reach truck operators may not have encountered before. For example, those operating trucks in a coldstore are likely to be wearing bulky protective clothing. Padded jackets can cause operators to move their bodies differently, while gloves will change how the controls feel in-hand. Specific job training and familiarisation training will enable operators to learn safe and accurate truck operation in these unique conditions.

Reach truck operator training will nearly always be needed for employers to remain legally compliant, but it’s also important for operators to be correctly trained so that they can keep themselves, and their colleagues, safe. This moral obligation will often supersede the legal demands for responsible employers. The guidance in this article covers just a few considerations for training those operating reach trucks in a cold food and drink warehouse environment. For more about materials handling equipment operator training in food and drink operations, visit www.rtitb.co.uk/food-and-drink.