by Sandy Smith

Recently, I received a call from Toyota Material Handling USA, inviting me to a media preview of the new Toyota 8-Series Lift Truck. I initially declined, despite the lure of a free trip to a fun city in a warm climate. Although an article on lift truck safety was one of the most-read articles we published in 2005, I still wasn't convinced I should attend. After all, what does a new lift truck have to do with safety?

Plenty, according to Toyota. Lift truck accidents are a leading cause of fatalities in the private sector, and while I was skeptical that I would see anything substantially different from the many lift trucks out there, I agreed to attend the media preview. I have to admit, I came away a believer.

First of all, there was the truck itself. Toyota's 8-Series lift truck, like its predecessor the 7-Series, offers a system of active stability (SAS), which utilizes computer sensors to sense various factors that lead to lateral instability and potential overturn. When those conditions are detected, SAS instantly engages the truck's swing lock cylinder to stabilize the rear axle, substantially reducing the likelihood of an overturn.

In recent years, says Shankar Basu, president and CEO of Toyota Material Handling USA, there have been six overturns involving Toyota lift trucks and zero fatalities resulting from these overturns. Non-Toyota lift trucks have been involved in 118 fatalities, according to Toyota.

"There is nothing more gratifying to us than knowing that one of our technologies has saved many a human life," says Basu. And, he adds, "A safe driver becomes a more productive driver."

Which brings us to ergonomics. The company has integrated more leg room in the truck, as well as other changes designed to reduce the operator's effort during entry and exit. Any operator who gets in and out of one of these trucks as many as 100 times a day can attest to the need for easy entry and exit.

But most impressive, I thought, was the attitude of the employees I met. In this country, where some companies continue to view worker injuries and environmental pollution as the cost of doing business and compliance with OSHA and EPA regulations as a necessary evil, Toyota views environmental stewardship and workplace safety as requirements for doing business.

When the company received the Indiana Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence this year, Sonny Toyoda, president of Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing Inc., commented: "We work diligently to ensure that we are not just preserving, but also improving our environment. ... Smart business decisions also can be environmentally friendly, and it's a message we deliver with enthusiasm and conviction."

Message heard loud and clear.