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Reasons to be optimistic

26 November 2019

Accurately predicting the future direction of the UK economy has been occupying the minds of expert – and amateur – analysts for much of the previous twelve months and will likely continue to do so for some time to come. Brexit has proved a challenge for many industries and the material handling sector has not been immune from this. However, as we look ahead to a new year there are still reasons to be optimistic, says BITA Secretary-General James Clark.

One of these reasons stems from a significant announcement during IMHX 2019, namely the potential merger of the British Industrial Truck Association (BITA) and the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA). 

A combined association will lead to an improved service to members and the material handling sector in general. In a post-Brexit world, the need for clarity of message will take on added significance and if that message can be voiced by a single entity, then the louder it will be heard.

Although we are still at the discussion stage, both associations are keen to ensure complete transparency. We want to make certain that all stakeholders are kept fully informed of developments and have ample opportunity to contribute their views and suggestions.

Combining the two organisations makes a great deal of sense. There is a great deal of synergy between the two trade bodies and they have a proven track record of working successfully together. Joint ventures include the creation of CFTS, the accrediting body introduced to deliver the first national procedure for Thorough Examination that complies fully with HSE requirements. More recently, we have collaborated in the formation of F-TEC, the UK’s dedicated centre for the training of apprentices and engineers.

The merger has the potential to be a milestone development for the materials handling industry. Harnessing the expertise that exists within both organisations and channelling it into one exceptional resource will enable the new body to significantly raise industry standards, collect, collate and share statistics, and take the lead when delivering expert guidance on safety, employment legislation and a wide spectrum of technical issues.

Whilst no timetable for the merger has been agreed, both parties will be providing updates as and when appropriate.

In the meantime, both associations will endeavour to continue providing expert support for their respective members.

We all know that any kind of economic forecasting in a climate dominated by Brexit uncertainty is difficult. This is why data supplied exclusively to the British Industrial Truck Association (BITA) - the UK trade association for manufacturers and suppliers of forklift truck and associated components and services, is so useful.

As we look for positives in our industry, data from BITA’s latest market analysis is confidently predicting a modest strengthening in the market, with successive growth over each of the next three years. 

This is largely due to increased levels of activity in sectors such as food & beverages, transport & storage, and retail & wholesale distribution.

Latest sales orders suggest that the industrial truck market whilst subdued, continues to grow. Over the last 10 years, the UK forklift market has risen dramatically from a low in 2009 of 17,658 units to just over 35,000 in 2018.

If the 2019 rate of growth continues then it is likely the market will exceed that of 2018, and then strengthen during 2020.

We see no reason why this should not be the case. BITA forecasting has proved to be very reliable in the past, helping suppliers plan their future sales strategies with confidence.

BITA is the sole provider of industrial truck sales statistics in the UK, contributed by - and only made available to - BITA members.

BITA's exclusive market analysis provides an ongoing illustration of market conditions as recorded by all its manufacturing members, who together represent well over 90% of the UK market. BITA thus holds a unique repository of information on the current state and historical trends of the UK fork-lift market.

Having access to such detailed information will be vital in helping our members formulate their strategies for the next year and beyond. 

With access to industry-specific data such as this, BITA members continue to be better prepared than most, enabling them to develop strategies with confidence due to the detailed analysis carried out by the association on their behalf. 

But this isn’t all we do for our members.

We strive to live up to our motto of ‘lifting industry standards’ – and there is no field where this is better illustrated than with industry safety.

Established six years ago by the Industrial Truck Association (ITA) in the United States, National Forklift Safety Day promotes best practice and the safe operation of forklift trucks. Joining with the Health & Safety Executive, this year BITA – in collaboration with other industry bodies – debuted the campaign in the UK.

The campaign message consisted of two key elements. Firstly, that the wearing of seat belts or the use of restraints whilst operating forklift trucks can save lives. The second aspect was that it was the responsibility of managers to ensure that where fitted, seat belts are always used.

Industry statistics graphically illustrate why such messages are important. Between 1st January 2016 and 6th March 2019 there were 5,700 RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) reports involving forklift trucks, of these, 58 related directly to the driver restraint system. 

BITA is aware of twelve fatal truck-related accidents in the UK in the two reporting years from 2016 to 2018 and at least three of these deaths could have been prevented had the operator worn a seat belt.

The decision by BITA to introduce NFSD was thoroughly vindicated, with the campaign garnering widespread support from across the materials handling industry.

Such was the response that NFSD will again take place in 2020 – with a different message - and the aim is to make it a fixture of the material handling calendar.

The BITA crusade for a safer industry was also the theme of the 2019 Design4Safety Awards, coinciding once again with the IMHX exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham.

The competition attracted a strong entry, with manufacturers and suppliers keen to gain this important endorsement for their products.

With its simple ethos of challenging companies to design innovative solutions into their trucks or services, the Design4Safety Awards have become the benchmark for the industry and a real badge of honour for the recipients. Inherent in winning is the recognition that a company has set a new standard, one that others must now strive to achieve – or overtake.

The Design4Safety Awards therefore represent a logical extension to National Forklift Safety Day and together they continue to highlight the need for improved safety. The standard of entries this year suggested that manufacturers continue to take seriously the goal of raising safety standards to the highest level possible and from BITA’s standpoint, this is very welcome.