A safe plant is a happy plant

Forklift operator training is a good start on the path to productivity and profitability.

By Mike Bacidore, chief editor

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In brief:

  • Moving materials is a big part of production in any plant, and it doesn’t have to compromise a safe work environment.
  • Safe forklift operation should be taught and reinforced as an integrated part of a company’s culture.
  • Plant managers should encourage their supervisors and workers to continue embracing general safety principles, including work and ergonomic practices and training, to reduce workplace exposures.

Bad safety practices hurt. They hurt employees. They hurt morale. They hurt equipment. They hurt production. And they hurt the bottom line. According to the 2011 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, the most disabling workplace injuries and illnesses amounted to more than $50 billion in direct U.S. workers’ compensation costs in 2009.

“Employers that implement effective safety and health management systems and culture improvements can reasonably expect to significantly reduce injuries and illnesses and reduce the costs associated with these injuries and illnesses,” promises Wes Scott, PhD, P.E., manager, consulting services, at National Safety Council (www.nsc.org). “These costs are not limited to workers’ compensation payments, medical expenses, and lost productivity. In addition, employers often find that process and other changes made to improve workplace safety and health may result in significant improvements to their organization’s productivity and profitability.”

Figure 1. Forklift operator training reduces safety risks and safety violations, in addition to production and maintenance downtime.
Figure 1. Forklift operator training reduces safety risks and safety violations, in addition to production and maintenance downtime.

Moving materials is a big part of production in any plant, and it doesn’t have to compromise a safe work environment. Plant managers should take a variety of measures to ensure their facilities are as safe as they are efficient. “Conduct weekly safety meetings,” offers Vince Hoy, plant manager at the WestWind Logistics plant in Omaha, Nebraska (Figure 1). “They don’t need to be long, just 5 minutes. I do mine on Monday mornings. It just helps people get in work mode while also implanting safety notions in their heads. Daily reminders, posters, preventive maintenance, and periodic safety spot checks will help keep people diligent while also reminding them of safety.”

Plant managers play a key role in ensuring their facilities are safe and efficient, emphasizes Jonathan Dawley, president of Hyster Distribution (www.hyster.com). “A few areas of which plant managers should be aware and look to implement into their facility are proper equipment maintenance, pre-operational inspections, fork inspections, lift trucks designed with new technologies offering system-controlled functionality, and lift truck operator training,” he says.

Safe forklift operation should be taught and reinforced as an integrated part of a company’s culture, explains Brian Duffy, director of corporate environmental and manufacturing safety at Crown Equipment (www.crown.com). “Plant managers can help foster a culture of safety and ensure that facilities are as safe as they are efficient by implementing a formal training program that allows forklift operators to develop safe habits,” he suggests. “Formal results-based training programs prepare operators to perform tasks safely, reliably and effectively in the workplace by practicing their skills and receiving feedback from managers who can help them develop safe habits. Safe forklift operation isn’t something that can be practiced once and then neglected. Plant managers must set the expectation and then help employees to develop good habits and demonstrate safe performance on a daily basis.”

Mike Bacidore has been an integral part of the Putman Media editorial team since 2007, when he was managing editor of Control Design magazine. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning a Gold Regional Award and a Silver National Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at 630-467-1300 ext. 444 or mbacidore@putman.net or check out his .

The safe movement of materials in a facility should be a significant consideration when designing, or redesigning, a production area, adds Bill Johnson, senior safety engineer at Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (www.toyotaforklift.com). “Sometimes, production areas make the mistake of using the same aisles and passageways for pedestrian and material flow,” he warns. “This creates opportunities for incidents and accidents, and slows down both material handlers and pedestrians as they cautiously work around each other. As much as possible, people and material handling equipment should be separated by guards or barriers. Physical barriers assure that pedestrians and material handling equipment do not come into contact with each other. Warning lights and crossing drop arms can be used at intersections to reduce injury potential at crossing points.”

Forklift safety in the warehouse requires instruction for forklift operators, supervisors, and pedestrians, agrees Duffy. “Forklift operators should finish their initial training with a clear understanding of safe forklift operation,” he says. “Supervisory reinforcement is essential to ensuring those safe practices become good habits. Pedestrians who work around forklifts should be trained on proper behavior in a material handling work environment. Pedestrians should understand forklift dangers and be trained to follow the rules of interaction with forklifts during safety training programs that include visual applications and environmental training. Supervisors should also conduct periodic safety meetings with pedestrians to ensure that all employees understand the safe behavior of both forklift operators and pedestrians is essential to avoiding accidents.”

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