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Electric tugs improve safety and handling efficiencies at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

By investing in six electric-operated materials handling tugs for moving roll cages of catering trolleys, laundry and medical notes around its two sites, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has reduced the risk of accidents and injuries to its staff, whilst also improving handling efficiencies.

"Since purchasing the six electric-operated tugs from MasterMover in mid-2010, we’ve seen a significant improvement in our handling efficiencies," comments Trevor Loftus, Head of Physical Risk at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTFT). "The SmartMover electric-operated tugs have also reduced the risk of handling injuries to our staff."

Trevor Loftus is responsible for Health & Safety across the two LTFT sites. He explains why the investment in new handling machines was necessary: "Prior to investing in the six SmartMover tugs, catering supplies, laundry and medical notes were being unloaded from a truck or van and then moved by roll cage or trolley to their required destinations around the hospital. A roll cage of linen, for example, can weigh up to a third of a tonne and so moving the roll cage would often require two people to push and pull one cage at a time to its destination. We faced similar problems when moving medical notes to wards or catering supplies."

He continues: "As well as being inefficient in terms of manpower, moving heavy, bulky goods around our two sites in this manner also posed too high a risk of injury to staff. Pushing or pulling a roll cage can be physically demanding for staff and dangerous in terms of line of sight. If you are pushing a roll cage, you cannot always see what’s in front of it, or if you’re pulling a roll cage, you can’t always see what’s behind you."

Back in early 2010, following a review of the risk assessments, the Trust decided a new handling solution was required across the two sites in order to reduce the risk of injuries to staff and patients and improve handling efficiencies.

After a market review, MasterMover was appointed to deliver a suitable solution in terms of the type of electric-operated tugs that were required, as well as the type of couplings that would be needed in order to facilitate the connection of the electric tugs to the various roll cages and trolleys.

The solution provided to LTFT was MasterMover’s SmartMover electric-operated tug. This is a versatile machine designed for moving roll cages from vehicle tail lifts and across uneven surfaces and slopes, which can also turn through 90 degrees. By clamping to the base of the roll cage or trolley, the unit ensures that the cage cannot be tipped onto the operator. This reduces serious injury to employees and makes unloading and moving goods a single-person procedure. Efficiency and safety are further improved by enabling the movement of multiple roll cages using towing links. Sealed batteries, variable speed and auto braking are also standard on the SmartMover. SmartMover connects to the base of the wheeled load via a clamping mechanism, which is operated by using a simple switch located on the headset of the device. Once connected, the machine is secured to the load and the operator can use the ‘forward’ and ‘reverse’ controls.

The machine is also very easy-to-use. A simple throttle paddle on the headset enables the user to constantly vary the speed according to the conditions. There is also a twin speed button that enables the operator to place a cap on the speed, which is useful for busy hospitals. Amongst other built-in safety features is an anti-crush button that ensures that the user cannot become trapped between the machine and an immoveable object. The device has an electro-magnetic brake, which is constantly engaged until the operator applies power via the throttle. The unit can be steered on either side, enabling easy turning in tight spaces. When off load, the device travels on the support wheels for maximum operator comfort.

At LTFT, MasterMover conducted on-site training for a total of 18 staff in how to operate the six SmartMover machines. According to Loftus, this training was completed over two or three sessions, each of which included both theory and hands-on, practical training. "This training was fast, straightforward and provided a real morale-boost for our staff," says Loftus. Ten months into using the new SmartMover tugs, the portering staff are extremely pleased with the tugs, particularly in terms of their manoeuvrability and safety features. "The physical effort required to move a roll cage or trolley is now much reduced, which means the staff are happier too."

"Although I justified the initial cost of the six tugs purely on how they would reduce the risk of manual handling injuries to our staff, the SmartMover tugs have also improved our handling efficiencies significantly. Using the tugs has also encouraged staff to think more about the logistics of moving supplies around the hospitals and how these tasks can be carried out more efficiently."

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