How To Reinforce Safe Lift Truck Operations

Oct. 1, 2004
by David Hoover, president, Forklift Training Systems Inc. As a father of two children, ages two and five, I am constantly looking for ways to motivate

by David Hoover, president, Forklift Training Systems Inc.

As a father of two children, ages two and five, I am constantly looking for ways to motivate my kids toward being polite, being helpful and even being safe, just to name a few. I have found a great motivational tool to help me, which is positive reinforcement. The old saying “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” seems to hold true. If I really want to shape their behavior, I get them working toward a positive reward such as a later bedtime or more playtime, and then make a big deal out of it when they “earn” the reward. I also use negative reinforcement, such as losing playtime, but I use it as a last resort when nothing else works. Normally the positive works much better and lasts longer. You might ask what this has to do with reinforcing safe lift truck operations; let me explain.

If you were called into your manager’s office tomorrow and told “You are doing a decent job, I think we’ll keep you around another year,” how would you feel? If you had been working hard and doing your best, then you might feel disappointed, unappreciated and maybe even angry, that they did not appreciate you, right? That is exactly how many highly skilled lift truck operators feel today. I come across people like this all the time; they are smart, extremely skilled and make their companies run like a well-oiled, machine, but nobody seems to notice. Year in and year out they quickly and efficiently stack and store material safely and efficiently, which makes their company profitable, but who cares? No wonder morale is so low in many companies and industries today.

Here are some ideas to motivate your lift truck operators:

Come up with a safe operation award (like the million-mile awards some companies give semi-truck drivers). Make it tough to achieve, but not impossible, so that only the best of the best achieve it (and not the guy who hits the building column every day). Put up some cash or a nice prize and recognize them in the company newsletter or at a company function. Recognition is a powerful positive reinforcement, maybe even more so than money.

Organize a lift truck rodeo (or I prefer the words “lift truck skills challenge” event). This might be just your company or you might include everyone in your industrial park, etc. Set up real-life courses, such as trailer loading, stacking, maneuvering, etc., and grade them on safe operation and efficiency (keep track of the time) with the emphasis on safety. Hand out trophies and recognize the winners, get them in the local paper or have the local TV station cover the event. Everyone in the world likes to have a chance to show his skills and this gives the lift truck operators a chance to do just that.

Get their input on how to improve safety and reduce expenses related to material handling in your location. Put up decent cash rewards and incentives for great ideas. If the company is going to save $10,000 next year as a result, I think they can cough up $250 for the idea! This will make the operators feel more like they are a part of your team and also save your company money.

If you have other unique ways your company positively reinforces safe lift truck operation or rewards your drivers, please let me know and I put together a list for a future article. You can reach me at [email protected]