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Lift truck safety tip: Now you try it

Managers and lift truck operators compare notes to improve long-term safety habits.
By Josh Bond, Associate Editor
December 16, 2010

Before hitting the aisles, an operator in training can expect a few laps through a traffic cone course, followed by an upbeat—if slightly corny—safety video. Supervisors might distribute a safety quiz to trainees before pushing the play button and leaving the room.

But if Ron Brewer has his way, managers will stick around for the video, join operators for hands-on training, and demonstrate proficiency in each safe practice they expect of lift truck operators. Brewer is manager of operator training for Crown Equipment, and he says supervisor training can help bring good safety habits from the break room VCR to the warehouse floor.

“Some supervisors don’t even know what safe operation looks like,” says Brewer. “Those safety habits go by the wayside because they’ve never been reinforced.”
Just watching a video won’t do the trick, says Brewer, who recommends supervisors learn lift truck operation—forward, backward, up and down—as well as pre-shift lift truck inspections and an emphasis on safe habits for pedestrians.

Before the training, a supervisor can survey a work area and determine whether work is being done, says Brewer. After the training, a supervisor can see at a glance whether work is being done safely.

So far, however, the idea has been slow to catch on. Brewer says he has visited more than 1,000 warehouses in his career, and he has rarely seen such a program in place.
“I can say with some confidence that most companies are not doing this,” he says. “For some it’s a welcome a-ha moment. For others, it’s a real cultural shift.” Brewer admits that the prospect of supervisor training and a program of ongoing safety-oriented supervision is a tough sell.

“We get some pushback,” says Brewer. “Their initial reaction is: ‘That’s one more responsibility for this overworked person.’ But when you make the case and show them less shrinkage, less equipment damage, less workers’ compensation claims and increased productivity, they begin to realize the benefit.” Brewer cites a recent study by the National Institute of Safety and Health, which found that conventional operator training reduced operator mistakes by 44%. “I’m a ‘glass half empty’ guy,” says Brewer. “That means 56% remained.”

With sustained oversight from a trained supervisor, Brewer says the study found 70% fewer operator mistakes, a near doubling of effectiveness.

Whatever the impact of supervisor training, Brewer says one thing is certain: “OSHA is going to enforce the rules, whether you know them or not.”

About the Author

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Josh Bond
Associate Editor

Josh Bond is an associate editor to Modern. Josh was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and contributing editor, has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce.


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