Chain of Thought

Forklifter—Delivering Justice to Willful Violators

The new TV season is upon us, and after reviewing the upcoming Fall schedule I came to this realization: Entertainment is the only industry that can produce 90% junk and still stay alive. If material handling equipment producers had the same record, their customers in all manufacturing industries would have been forced to revert to Stone Age best practices a long time ago.

But I have an idea for some hit-hungry Hollywood producer for next season. It was inspired by reader feedback from my last blog on the concept of renting a lift truck with an operator. Working title: “Forklifter.”

It's the continuing story of an itinerant lift truck operator who gets called to different industry sites to solve supply chain crises. He's a multi-talented expert who has been trained on all lift truck classes and types and can be brought up to speed on a job site in minutes.

Here's the kicker: he's really a secret agent for OSHA who's seeks out criminal—i.e., willful—violations and bring employers to justice.

Yeah, it's a fantasy. PBS's Frontline—speaking from its more elevated perch in the TV schedule—says that since OSHA came into being more than 30 years ago, there have been more than 200,000 workplace-related deaths, but the agency has referred only 151 cases to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. Furthermore, the biggest penalty a company has faced for a “willful violation” is a misdemeanor. Federal prosecutors have declined to pursue two-thirds of these cases, and only eight of them have resulted in prison sentences for company officials.

But if Rod Serling could have a hit with Twilight Zone, why couldn't my show work? In fact that would have been a great episode for Serling to write in the early 60s. To add even more far-out fantasy to it, the lift trucks could have been powered by fuel cells. (Just kidding, OEMs, where's your sense of humor?)

Nevertheless, Scott Fisher isn't buying my concept. He's director of corporate operations, finance, and information systems at Capital Equipment & Handling, Inc., a Clark, Nissan and Jungheinrich dealer in Hartland, Wisc. He says renting an operator with your lift truck may be a great concept for the end user, but any provider trying to adopt this business model would be inviting trouble.

“Equipment rental and temporary services are two totally different and very competitive businesses,” he opined. “Such a service could not possibly be cost competitive. An equipment dealer would have a difficult time maintaining the pool of trained, drug-tested, insured and available staff … and [bear] the additional overhead cost associated with temporary or seasonal workers.”

Furthermore, training costs would be minimal compared to the recurring expenses such as unemployment compensation, insurance, workman's compensation and Social Security.

By the same token, a temporary agency would be hard pressed to invest in and maintain a fleet of rental equipment and be competitively priced with what an equipment dealer can provide for the same service, he added.

So it sounds like the idea of renting an operator with your lift truck is as believable as that of an intrepid, industry-hardened powered industrial truck operator dispatched by OSHA to root out abuses in the material handling underworld. But is the “Charlie's Angels” retread ABC will be throwing at viewers this season any more believable? Nor more than the idea that ABC will order more than 13 episodes of that stinker.

So call me crazy, but I think “Forklifter” has a good shot at being on next Fall's schedule. Maybe sooner, if Angels gets an early sendoff to its just reward, right ABC? Call me.

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