Material handling is making news everywhere. Did you see the May issue of Esquire magazine? It had a feature called "Viva Wal-Mart." The writer proclaimed that Wal-Mart’s inventory control and information technologies are so far ahead of competitors’ that it can enter a business with lower margins if the top line is sufficiently attractive.
Here’s another example: an April edition of The Wall Street Journal had a front-page feature on how hospitals are adopting Toyota Automotive’s material handling techniques to cut costs and wait times ("To Fix Health Care, Hospitals Take Tips from Factory Floor").
Great, right? Not if you like reading about lift trucks. (If you do, you picked the right issue of MHM.) How have lift trucks been covered in the general news media? Just out of curiosity, I did a Google search to find out. I used "Forklift" and "Associated Press" as my search terms. More than 2,000 hits came up.
Impressive. Until you start reading the stories. After scanning through the first 20 or so, I got the feeling the only people making news with lift trucks are stupid criminals and victims of the fickle finger of fate. Here are some samples:
o "A would-be ATM thief in Omaha, Neb., made a real splash. According to an Associated Press report, someone apparently tried to use a forklift to break open the machine and hit a sprinkler line in the ceiling instead. ... Police said it appeared the thief had failed to get any money out of the ATM."
o "Challenged by the sudden lack of workers, Ecopetrol quickly enacted an emergency plan that included having hundreds of the firm's office workers perform blue-collar jobs. ... An Ecopetrol secretary now drives a forklift at the refinery’s warehouse. Late into her long shift Wednesday, she loaded a huge steel box onto a truck, then tried to park the forklift. But she plunged its metal prong into the tail lights of a pickup when she failed to brake in time."
o "Company Fined after Death of Teenage Forklift Operator … August 13, 2003 — The Wage and Hour investigation revealed that a 15-year-old youth was at the controls of a forklift in violation of the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act."
o "Washington — Twenty-one U.S. soldiers deployed to the war in Afghanistan were injured in two accidents … On Monday, 16 were injured in a helicopter crash, and five were hit by a forklift. One of the five injured by the forklift was evacuated to Germany in critical but stable condition; the other four had minor injuries."
o "Boston — The number of people killed by job- related illnesses or injuries in Massachusetts surged last year to 81, the highest number of fatalities since 1999. … The youngest worker killed was [a]16-year-old ...who was crushed when the forklift he was driving tipped and fell on him."
o "Melrose Park, Ill. — A factory worker who got caught stealing from his employer ... admitted helping a fellow plant employee steal diesel engines and components worth $195,400. He used his forklift to hoist the engines onto a truck driven by the other employee."
Depressed? Well, MHM has good news for you. The industrial truck industry is alive and well and working to make sure its customers turn out the same way. As you’ll read in our interview with Dirk Von Holt, president of the Industrial Truck Association, the ITA is working with OSHA to find ways to make operators safer and more productive. Our cover story will take you on an uplifting tour of lift truck usage in a variety of industries, and executive editor Clyde Witt covers the dealer’s role in supporting your investment in this equipment.
Lift trucks have often been either taken for granted or cursed as a necessary evil. This issue is dedicated to changing those mindsets for good.
Tom Andel, chief editor