Hyster Reaction Operator Assist Technology.

As we enter the National Safety Month of June, we’d like to motivate ourselves and our community to face the safety challenges that cause us all to lose sleep at night. Across all the conversations that we have with our customers and vendors, we’re truly inspired to see firsthand just how seriously the material handling industry takes safety today. In those conversations though, we still hear about problematic safety concerns that some businesses just can’t seem to fully eliminate, no matter how actively or aggressively they try. At the scales that modern material handling businesses operate, working towards peak safety performance can only be accomplished through a combination of technology, training, and managerial investment. Luckily, solutions exist on all these fronts that warehouse managers can easily tap into, helping them manage safety risks and gain back some of that well-earned sleep they deserve.

In this article, we’ll explore one technology solution in particular that helps forklift fleet managers automate safety across their entire enterprise: forklift operator-assist systems. A forklift operator-assist system is a software and hardware system integrated into a forklift that monitors real-time conditions, alerts operators to hazards, automates safety-related forklift actions, and intervenes on an operator’s behalf in the event of a detected imminent accident.

Operator-assist systems fit very well into the theme of National Safety Month as they promote operator involvement, technological enhancements, and managerial investment into overall warehouse safety.

For 2024, National Safety Month promotes a specific safety focus for each week of the month. In fact, warehouse managers can fully embody the topic of forklift safety into the themes of each week of National Safety Month, providing ample conversation and coaching points as managers engage their workforce.

  • June 1st – Safety Engagement
  • June 9th – Roadway Safety
  • June 16th – Risk Reduction
  • June 23rd – Slips, Trips, and Falls
National Forklift Safety Day, June 11, 2024 logo.

Primary Features of Forklift Operator-Assist Safety Systems

Forklift operator-assist systems are universal intelligence systems that can be added to forklifts of any make, model, or age. Operator-assist systems that come integrated into new lifts offer the most features since they’re physically built into the lift from the factory, though plenty of aftermarket options for existing lifts exist as well (albeit some may have limitations depending on the lift). Across these options and others, forklift operator-assist systems offer the following features:

  • Lift Stability Monitoring – advanced operator-assist systems actively monitor forklift traction and center of gravity, detecting and intervening whenever an unstable situation is sensed. Most often, lift stability is threatened by cornering too fast, maneuvering too fast with a raised load, and when loads shift or get caught during transport. In such an event, the operator-assist system will automatically adjust the lift’s speed, steering, and braking.
  • Load Stability Monitoring – the technology continuously measures the combined center of gravity of the lift truck and load it carries.  When a potential risk is detected, it determines the appropriate degree of performance adjustment to respond with, taking into account the forklift speed, acceleration, travel ditection, steering angle, mast tilt and load weight, height and position.   
  • Object Detection – forklift operator-assist systems come equipped with light detection and ranging (LiDAR), infrared, camera, or similar vision systems that can detect unexpected objects in a forklift’s path. Object detection is of crucial benefit to operators, stopping or diverting a lift around objects that an operator may not otherwise be able to see.
  • Proximity Detection – where object detection is meant specifically for identifying unexpected obstructions to a forklift’s path of travel, proximity detection is intended to maintain certain clearances between the lift and other warehouse elements. Most importantly, proximity detection sensors spot pedestrians that cross into a forklift’s path, stopping the lift and sounding beacons to alert the pedestrian so that a collision is avoided.
  • Location Sensing – finally, forklift operator-assist systems can report their position back to an integrated telematics or similar tracking system, which can be used to optimize, automate, and enforce location-based actions across a forklift fleet. For example, areas of the plant can be demarcated as “forklift-free” zones. Forklifts detected entering these zones can then be automatically stopped, and operators alerted to correct their course in order to comply with the restriction.

Common Applications and Goals of Operator-Assist Systems

Forklift operator-assist systems clearly offer many powerful features as we’ve described above, but what exact safety concerns can these features solve? Our goal again is to help warehouse forklift fleet managers regain lost sleep, and below are the most common safety benefits of operator-assist systems that our customers say if gained would help them do exactly that:

  • Personnel Protection – above all, protecting warehouse staff and visitors is the most important application of operator-assist systems. Through stability, proximity, object, and location detection features, these systems add extra eyes and ears to a forklift, intervening automatically where operators may not see an impending issue themselves.
  • Operator Intervention – operator-assist systems can instantly step in to shore up operator judgement, attentiveness, decision making, and general level of care. Sometimes operators make bad calls and aren’t as careful as required, or perhaps managerial practices and warehouse design prompt poor operator actions. Regardless of the reason, operator-assist systems can automate safe decision making and practices on the fly, such as:
    • End of Aisle Slowdown – reduces a lift’s speed in proximity to an intersection.
    • Exclusion Zones – restricts lift travel from pedestrian, staging, or other protected locations in the warehouse.  
    • Following Distances – automatically maintains a fixed distance from other vehicles so as to avoid tailgating, as well as setting a fixed following speed.
  • Procedural Enforcement – operator-assist systems can take the above intervening practices to the next level, and actively police such practices as matters of policy enforcement. Warehouses have rules to keep people safe and materials protected, and driving operators to comply with these rules can be no more complicated than adding an operator-assist system to their lifts.
    • Adaptive Speed Control – restricts travel speeds based on marked locations within a warehouse, as well as within set parameters such as when carrying oversized loads or maneuvering through congested areas.
    • Location-Based Height Restrictions – automatically lowers load heights to safe levels when entering zones of a warehouse that have low overhead obstructions.
  • Operator Behavior Development – positive reinforcement can do wonders for operator performance over time. Forklift operator-assist systems can automatically provide this interactive training and behavior development by automating policies and coaching best practices while operators go about their missions. Such training can be much more impactful than traditional training sessions relying solely on video and written material.
  • Business Intelligence and Total Performance Improvement – warehouse managers not only want to solve safety and performance concerns today, but they also want to gain insight into their operations that allow them to continuously improve in these areas into the future. Forklift operator-assist systems can provide sources of information that can be used for exactly this type of long-term total performance improvement, compiling data from every operator, forklift, and mission automatically.  

We hope that this discussion has been helpful for your commercial material handling needs. Fairchild Equipment is the Upper Midwest’s premier Material Handling Equipment and Service resource, with headquarters in  Green Bay, Wisconsin, and numerous locations serving needs 24/7 across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Northern Illinois, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For more information or to discuss which Warehouse Optimization solution might be best for you, please send us a message or call us at (844) 432-4724.


2140 Hutson Rd.
Green Bay, Wisconsin 54303
(920) 494-8726