Other Voices: Recognizing forklift safety champions and challenges

The third annual National Forklift Safety Day is a great time to recognize champions of safety. It is also an opportunity to identify those operators who willfully disregard safe behaviors.

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Editor’s Note: The following column by Jim Gaskell, director of global technology business development for Crown Equipment Corporation, is part of Modern’s Other Voices column. The series features ideas, opinions and insights from end-users, analysts, systems integrators and OEMs. Click here to learn about submitting a column for consideration.


It is a relatively safe assumption that safety is a common high priority for organizations requiring warehouses to support their business. As the Industrial Truck Association and many forklift manufacturers celebrate National Forklift Safety Day on June 14, it is important to recognize champions of safety in each company and in each warehouse. But what about identifying and evolving those who are not champions and do not demonstrate the appropriate behavior?

As readers are well aware, all forklift operators are required to go through training where they learn the proper and safe behavior needed to successfully use the industrial truck in a warehouse. Upon finishing that training, it is the operators’ responsibility to put everything they learned into practice. Unfortunately, accidents do happen and safety issues do arise.

A good forklift fleet and operator management system can often help managers identify the operator at the center of the unsafe behavior. These systems consist of the collection, analysis and use of relevant fleet information to help reduce costs and improve operator and forklift productivity. This meaningful information provides visibility into operations that can help answer critical questions, such as “are certain operators or locations accounting for a higher-than-average number of impacts?”

The information provided by some of these systems, if utilized properly, also can provide a window into operator performance. Through operator log-ins and important productivity metrics around travel time, lift time and idle time, you can measure and benchmark individual operators and groups; and ideally, identify those exhibiting unsafe behavior.

However, for many fleet managers, it is often difficult to establish whether the safety issue is solvable by a simple reminder or more stringent disciplinary action. To better establish a safe working environment, managers need to identify whether the forklift safety issue is one of simple awareness or willful disregard on the part of the operator.

Awareness versus willfulness
Most operators strive to be safe operators and champions of best safety practices. They apply what they have learned to help ensure a safe working environment. However, as with every profession, there are always going to be those who just disregard the rules of safety. A good forklift fleet and operator management system will help companies identify whether it is an issue of operator awareness issue or willful disregard.

When an accident happens or a safety issue comes to the forefront, a manager must determine whether the incident involved an operator who wasn’t aware they made an error or an operator who willfully disregarded safe behavior. The former could be handled with a simple reminder and word of encouragement to continue the great work they’ve been doing. The latter may require additional time investment and defined goals to ensure they practice the safe behaviors they were taught.

Managers have an opportunity through the fleet managers software to identify willful disregard before the operator even steps on the forklift. Operators are familiar with the forklift inspection checklist that OSHA mandates is completed before the operator drives the forklift. Some operators may finish the checklist faster than their company policy dictates, which could lead to a safety issue and monetary fines from OSHA.

For a certain number of operators, a reminder from the manager to follow the policy is enough to rectify the situation. However, if the operator continues to not follow policy when completing the checklist, the manager now knows the operator is willfully disregarding the recommended safe practice. The responsibility is in part on both the operator and the manager to solve the issue.

Let’s take something as common as forklift impacts to illustrate another instance where fleet and operator management systems can help managers distinguish between awareness or willful disregard. These systems can quantify impacts by operator and generate alerts when major impacts occur. Managers can then take this information and investigate the situations and speak with the operator. When this discussion happens, operators will begin to understand that impacts – and the damage they cause – should not be taken lightly.

Again, in most cases, it may be a simple matter of awareness; proper, timely feedback from a manager may be all that is required to help the operator be more mindful of safe behavior to help minimize the possibility of impacts occurring. However, in those situations where the operator continues to have a high number of impacts after being warned multiple times, the manager now knows that the operator is willfully disregarding the recommended safe operating practices and refusing to change his or her behavior.

These are just two instances where identifying whether the unsafe behavior is an awareness or willful disregard issue help managers create a safe working environment. Armed with this information, managers can work to quickly resolve the issue. Further downstream, employee-centric businesses may utilize the information to recognize and reward safety champions in their warehouses. Recognition is a critical part of retention, which is as common a goal in the warehouse as safety.

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