Supply Chain Management / Industrial Safety

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

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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Train for risk mitigation

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, suggests NSC’s Scott.

“It’s imperative to ensure there are effective job-hazard-analysis and risk-assessment procedures in place and that they’re routinely followed,” say Randy Cutler, vice president, global health, safety and environment, at Norgren (www.norgren.com).

Figure 2. Proper safety training and guidelines can help prevent physical injuries to people or damage to the plant’s machinery, infrastructure or products.
Figure 2. Proper safety training and guidelines can help prevent physical injuries to people or damage to the plant’s machinery, infrastructure or products.

Proper safety training and guidelines can help prevent physical injuries to people or damage to the plant’s machinery, infrastructure or products, says Hyster’s Dawley (Figure 2). “While the safety of the people in the plant is of paramount importance, their safety and well-being may also have financial and business implications through fewer leave-of-absence days, lower workers’ compensation premiums due to accidents, and lower overall healthcare costs,” he explains. “Better-trained personnel and properly equipped machinery can also help make the operation run more smoothly and reduce product and equipment damage.”

A safer material handling system or culture impacts the plant’s profitability by reducing safety risks and violations, says WestWind’s Hoy. “It reduces production and maintenance downtimes, which altogether helps to boost employee morale, increasing productivity,” he explains. “We do refresher training every six months using videos and hands-on training. This gives employees a chance to learn in a team setting, while also letting them get up close and personal, either with co-workers or equipment.”

A safer environment, along with well-trained operators, can mean savings in the forms of less product damage, less property damage, and fewer operator incidents, claims Jeff Mueller, manager of vehicle safety standards engineering, Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America (www.mcfa.com). “All of these can save in insurance premiums costs and workers’ compensation claims,” he says. “The best piece of safety equipment is a well-trained operator.”

Facilities that are able to use an integrated approach to forklift fleet and operator management are better positioned to operate at a higher level of safety, efficiency, productivity, and profitability, says Crown’s Duffy. “A fleet management system delivers actionable information from forklifts through content-rich dashboards that help fleet managers focus on real opportunities and avoid wasted time deciphering mounds of data,” he explains. “Interactive interfaces on fleet and operator management systems help managers to identify and prioritize issues around compliance, impacts and equipment, allowing managers to address issues before they turn into bad, costly habits. Time spent in safety training translates into fewer incidents, less downtime and increased profitability.”

Technological advances have produced material handling systems with load and movement sensitivities, explains Jason Parko, ergonomic material handling — solutions center product manager, Ingersoll Rand (www.ingersollrand.com). “New equipment is more user-friendly,” he says. “It knows how fast it needs to go up or down based on its lift load. It doesn’t require the operator to use multiple buttons and levers, which reduces exertion and the risk of error and increases operator safety. In addition, the plant manager should demonstrate the proper and improper uses of the equipment in a training environment. Typically, we recommend that an instructor shows a group of five to 10 associates how to use the equipment and then gives each employee the opportunity to try it out under the instructor’s supervision. This process should be repeated any time equipment is modified, upgraded, or added to the plant.”

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At WestWind forklift is one of the top three safety concerns. “We mention forklift safety and operation in every safety meeting,” admits Hoy. “I perform no-notice safety spot checks. You could be rewarded with a steak-dinner coupon or admonished, depending on the outcome of the spot check.”

Norgren’s Cutler recommends that, when it comes to forklift safety, it’s best to exceed regulatory requirements. He offers three suggestions. “Implement forklift operator mentoring programs leveraging senior operators, says Cutler. “Conduct engaging interactive operator training frequently to achieve and maintain a scratch-free forklift culture; forklifts shouldn’t make contact with anything to scratch paint. And recognize good behavior and discipline individuals who fail to align with company safety expectations.”

Automated handling

Figure 3. Automated solutions can help to streamline processes and improve efficiencies throughout the warehouse.
Figure 3. Automated solutions can help to streamline processes and improve efficiencies throughout the warehouse.

Automated solutions can help to streamline processes and improve efficiencies throughout the warehouse, says Chris Cella, president of Heubel Material Handling (www.heubel.com), a Raymond sales and service center (Figure 3). “As technology continues to advance and as lift truck manufacturers start integrating automation capabilities in their trucks, the market for a new generation of automated lift trucks will grow,” he explains. “Labor costs are 70% to 80% of the hourly cost of operating a lift truck, and automated solutions offer an innovative way to reduce labor costs for specific material handling tasks and improve efficiency. Especially in industries with high turnover rates, this ability to maintain scheduled movements of goods and reduce operational costs is crucial.”

A warehouse installing four automated lift trucks, each of which will run 100 routes per shift, two shifts per day, will save an average of 240 man-hours per week or 12,480 hours per year while still maintaining the same number of pallets moved throughout the warehouse, explains Cella. “This unique advantage allows warehouse managers to reallocate those man-hours into more important tasks,” he says.

Assembly lines do not run without a steady flow of parts, says Paul Perry, owner, president, and CEO of AutoGuide Systems (www.autoguideagvs.com), a company specializing in automating industrial trucks and partnering with lift truck suppliers. “Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky produces 500,000 cars a year,” he says. “That’s a lot of parts. Most of these parts are delivered with manually driven vehicles hauling parts from one process to another through a rather complex network of aisle ways connecting one process to another. Every inch of every route is carefully planned and integrated into a massive traffic system requiring seriously trained drivers paying very close attention to other trucks and pedestrians that are competing for the same space in a JIT environment. Manually driven high-speed ground transportation systems operating in narrow, congested aisles with a JIT requirements can be, by nature, hazardous environments. In assembly plants, these delivery systems typically run the same route, carrying the same parts from one point to another day-in and day-out. These are perfect opportunities to incorporate the ROI and safety benefits offered by AGV systems. Automating the vehicle removes reliability issues and safety hazards inherent to such manual operation.”