Lift trucks are, of course, the universal workhorses of the logistics and distribution business throughout Europe. A notable trend among the more sophisticated purchasers of these machines is no longer to regard price as the overriding consideration in fleet specification, but to look more at energy efficiency, programmable performance, real-time maintenance and reduced life cycle costs.
With trucks used for internal materials handling in large distribution centres, of all the factors contributing to the cost of a lift truck throughout its life, that of the driver is far and away the most important. In fact, the driver accounts for more than 70 per cent of the life cycle cost of a truck, so it makes sound economic sense to protect what is, in effect, a considerable investment – not just with beneficial working conditions but also in the design of the trucks themselves. It’s called truck ergonomics.
It’s long been recognised that a comfortable truck driver is a happier, less risky driver. But there is more to sound ergonomics than benevolence. The more forward-thinking companies are now acutely aware of the dangers of strain injuries, absenteeism, poor performance and lost production.
In other words, there is a price to pay for poor ergonomic design. The findings of recent research (undertaken jointly by Atlet and the Swedish Transport Research Commission in collaboration with truck users such as Volvo, Scania and IKEA) rung warning bells in the materials handling industry throughout Europe. It emerged that repetitive strain injuries (RSI) suffered by truck drivers, particularly in the neck, back, shoulders and arms (caused be turning and head-tilting, exacerbated in the long and intensive shifts that are typical of busy distribution centres), could cost a company well in excess of e15,000 per driver, per year in absenteeism, rehabilitation, re-employment, retraining, and lost production.
Not to mention legal actions. Extrapolated across industry, the costs of RSI and related injuries are staggering.
Users today should be prepared to pay more for a truck – for long-term benefits that might not even have been considered a few years ago. Now, the price tag is effectively less important than the whole life cost of the truck. Of course, advanced-ergonomics trucks, specifically designed to combat RSI, don’t come cheap. But it’s been calculated that for even the most expensive of these newgeneration trucks an increase of just six per cent in driver productivity is enough to recoup the extra cost of the truck.
Forward-thinking purchasers are becoming aware of how calculations such as these impact on life cycle cost.
And there are other imperatives for sound ergonomics. By opting for these trucks, many companies are ‘secondguessing’ EU legislation regarding RSI likely to be brought in within the next five years.
The recession of a few years ago created a buyers’ market. To a degree this is still so. Companies in the distribution industry, which have contributed so much to the record growth of the lift truck market, are flexing their purchasing muscle to great effect, and the truck manufacturers are obliged to dance to the their tune. Those buyers are becoming ever-more demanding.
But the discerning buyer, whilst still looking at the bottom line, is becoming increasingly aware that whole life costs and improved performance (from truck and operator) will bring real, added-value to the total operation.
Marianne Nilson is managing director, Atlet AB