Need field service during a pandemic? Forklift dealers have you covered


National Forklift Safety DayIn the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when little was known about the disease, facility managers understandably chose to keep outsiders off their premises. For forklift dealers, that meant field service technicians could no longer work at the customer’s site as usual. One workaround adopted by many fleets was to have the lift truck picked up outdoors and brought to the dealer’s shop. Some managers, though, sought to prevent virus transmission by postponing planned maintenance. 

What are the potential consequences of such a strategy? “The simple answer is, serious injury and/or death,” warns Tony Smith, vice president of operations at Material Handling Inc. (MHI), a Clark Material Handling Co. dealer that serves parts of the Southeast. “If equipment is not functioning properly, this can have catastrophic results for employees or for the equipment.” That is no exaggeration: As detailed in DCV’s May 2019 article “Safer because they’re sound,” planned maintenance is absolutely essential to the safe operation of industrial trucks and to the safety of those who use and work around them.

In fact, postponing or cutting back on maintenance essentially trades one risk for another. Going that route “could potentially restrict access to the trained service technicians who are responsible for identifying performance- and safety-related issues,” says Joe Perkins, executive vice president, operations at Carolina Handling, a Raymond authorized Solutions and Support Center in the Southeast. As a result, fleets may be exposed to increased risk of damage to trucks and injury to operators.

There are regulatory obligations to consider too. “OSHA Standard 1910.178(q)(1) specifies that ‘any power-operated industrial truck not in safe operating condition shall be removed from service,’” points out Keith Leffel, branch health and safety manager for Crown Equipment Corp. “The rule is very clear: A truck that is not safe must be removed and serviced by trained, authorized personnel because it’s important to the safety of the driver.”

The upshot: Fleet managers will need to protect personnel against Covid-19 while simultaneously avoiding the safety risks of postponing maintenance. That may sound daunting, but forklift dealers and manufacturers say they’ve got it covered, thanks to new protocols that let them properly maintain equipment while keeping customers and technicians safe.

STEP BY STEP

When the pandemic first hit, forklift manufacturers and dealers had to take immediate steps to protect their own and their customers’ personnel. Of necessity, their early efforts were somewhat ad hoc. But manufacturers soon began to hold formal meetings with their dealer network to develop and share best practices as well as adjust policies based on the real-life conditions they encountered. For example, Toyota Material Handling produced a playbook for activities like contact tracing, social distancing, reducing physical touches, and effectively communicating with employees about Covid-19, to name just a few. Hyster Co. created a special coronavirus site on an intranet for dealers, with detailed documents that describe safety protocols, simplified checklists technicians can carry with them, and other reference materials. Many, like Crown Equipment, which has its own medical director and medical services on its headquarters campus, also turned to health-care professionals for training and advice.

The companies mapped out every step of technicians’ work processes and their interactions with customers. With that information in hand, they developed rigorous protocols for mitigating transmission risk. Practices vary by manufacturer, and dealers must comply with local regulations as well as with individual customers’ requirements. But the following list, compiled from information provided by the experts consulted for this article, outlines the kinds of procedures technicians now follow. Depending on the company, they may be required to:

  • Record their temperature and submit a health attestation before they can be sent on a call.
  • Carry gloves, facemasks, safety glasses, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and spray, and towels.
  • Wear a facemask at all times.
  • Maintain social distance from customer personnel at all times. 
  • Wash hands and put on gloves when they arrive and again after completing the repair or maintenance work. 
  • Conduct a pre-service cleaning of high-touch areas on the truck, tools, and work area.
  • Complete the repairs or maintenance in an isolated location away from the customers’ employees. Some may work outdoors if weather and the facility setup allow. 
  • Wipe down and sanitize the lift truck again.
  • Review the work performed with the customer while socially distanced. 
  • Get approval for the work completed and sign-offs on invoices with minimal or no physical contact. This may be verbal, by email, by electronic signature, or with a disinfected tablet, depending on the dealer’s policy and/or the customer’s preference.
  • Use hand sanitizer before and after each service. 
  • Dispose of wipes, gloves, masks, paper towels, and other materials in approved receptacles.
  • Sanitize the service van and tools at least daily.
  • Limit visits back to the branch location for parts.
  • Use curbside pickup for parts to minimize risk of exposure.

Hyster and Yale have built upon their own Covid safety programs to offer a related service to customers, called HY-Shield Clean. “The objective of HY-Shield Clean is to educate technicians and customers’ operators on protocols against transmission,” explains Jeff Carter, director, service satisfaction at Yale Materials Handling Corp. Customers can order such services as deep cleaning of forklifts and sanitization training for operators. They can also purchase CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)-approved personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitization supplies, including customized cleaning kits that attach to lift trucks. 

The success of any Covid-prevention program requires cooperation from the customer, but not everyone is able or willing to meet the requirements. Smith notes that his company’s field technicians have the right to refuse service if they feel their safety is at risk. “We request that the customer provide a clean, safe, designated space for us to repair their equipment on-site,” he says. If a customer is unable to do so, then the technician can transport the equipment to MHI’s shop for service.

TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE

The procedures and materials that are fundamental to preventing virus transmission—masks, gloves, disinfectants, physical distancing—are decidedly low-tech. But forklift companies have found that technology, both new and familiar, is instrumental to providing safe maintenance and repair services. 

While limiting in-person visits is critical, there’s no getting around the fact that some things require getting a visual. At Toyota Material Handling, says Toyota Brand Ambassador Tom Lego, this is part of the culture; the Toyota Production System values the concept of genchi genbutsu, roughly translated as “go see the actual thing in its place.” When the pandemic hit, service technicians very quickly came up with ways to do that virtually, using apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Apple FaceTime on laptops and mobile phones to speak with customers while getting a close-up view of the problem. This kind of “preview” often helped to identify which parts would be needed, thereby reducing the number of trips required, he says.

Other forklift makers and dealers are using video communications as well. In some cases, the technician may be able to solve a problem without having to make a site visit. Telecom technologies are also being used to link field technicians with the manufacturers’ technical experts—especially valuable when long-distance travel is not an option. But some video tools have…



Read More:Need field service during a pandemic? Forklift dealers have you covered