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Blue light special: Bright idea shines on forklift safety

Eight forklifts in Bldg. 3001 are now equipped with an extra safety feature, a blue light that extends from the forklift about 25 feet in front of it. The lights alert other vehicles driving in the building, along with pedestrians, that a forklift is approaching, thus avoiding a near-miss or a collision. (Air Force photo by Kelly White/Released)

Eight forklifts in Bldg. 3001 are now equipped with an extra safety feature, a blue light that extends from the forklift about 25 feet in front of it. The lights alert other vehicles driving in the building, along with pedestrians, that a forklift is approaching, thus avoiding a near-miss or a collision. (Air Force photo by Kelly White/Released)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The daily dance between forklifts and people is a fact of work life in Bldg. 3001, but a new safety system is helping to keep both in step and out of danger.

Since April, eight forklifts owned by the 547th Propulsion Maintenance Squadron have been lighting up Bldg. 3001's concrete floors with intense blue spotlights designed to let people know there's a forklift headed their way.

The 2-foot-long, 1-foot-wide spots of luminous light shine from the top of forklifts to about 25 feet in front of a vehicle on the move. The blue lights were a curiosity at first to people who'd never seen them before, but quickly caught on.

Adam Monroe, a work leader with the squadron, said drivers had to "get used to having that bright blue light out in front of you everywhere you looked, but it's worked out really good.

"A lot of people are noticing us now," Mr. Monroe added. "We drive down the aisle and somebody will actually turn around and look at you now instead of walking right in front of you with their back to you. People have stopped me and said, 'I like that! We know you're coming and we can see you.'"

Forklift drivers and walkers face a number of risky encounter areas, such as blind corners and aisle intersections. Bldg. 3001 is dotted with stadium-style restrooms that have exits that feed people directly from wide wall openings onto traffic aisles. 

"From one end to the other, it's a surprise around every turn," Mr. Monroe said. "You don't know who's there or who's coming out."

The bright idea came about after a spate of near misses prompted concerns about how to improve safety beyond the standard methods that include right-of-way rules, horns and convex safety mirrors at aisle crossings, said Rod Hernandez, supervisor over the squadron's forklift operators in Bldg. 3001.

Of particular concern were four electric forklifts, which are not as noticeably noisy as gas or diesel models. The group tried bells on the forklift wheels and considered music, but neither would be good for the hearing impaired or workers with ear protection. Mr. Hernandez found the commercial blue light system, submitted the proposal and motor pool approved it.

"From that point on, it's caught on like wildfire," Mr. Hernandez said.

So far, the 547th PMXS is the only group at Tinker AFB to use the lights, but other work groups are considering adopting them, Mr. Hernandez said.