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Andel and Handling: Connect the Dots between Safety and Productivity

June 11, 2014
Productivity minus safety equals zero on the bottom line. Add forklift operator training to that equation for a better result.

Read our cover story on forklift safety and you’ll meet Tom Pettit, vice president and general manager of supply chain solutions for 3PL service provider Ryder Systems. Pettit takes pride in his company’s lean philosophies, key among which is safety. His approach to lean depends on his people being productive, and forklift safety is linked to Ryder’s holistic approach to productivity. If he requires his operators to slow down, he also makes sure that distances between associates and their work are shortened.

This got me to thinking that if all companies took the time to connect the dots between lean, safety and productivity, forklift-related violations might be a lot lower on OSHA’s list of top citations. After talking to Pettit I started wondering if his approach to forklift safety was unique to 3PLs. Do they really do a better job of designing safer environments than their clients?  It made sense to me. After all, why would you offload your material handling to a service provider that performed as badly as you?

Finding those answers would require metrics, so I asked I.D. Systems (, providers of fleet management and analytic systems, to crunch the numbers generated by clients in three categories: 3PLs, manufacturers and distributors.

We selected three key performance indicators from a year’s worth of client data, to smooth out seasonal variances. They were:

• Login vs. Shift Time: the percent of time vehicle operators are logged into vehicles, compared to the time they are being paid for their full shifts;

• Deadman vs. Login Time: The percent of time vehicle operators are sitting or standing on their vehicles, ready for work, compared to the time they are logged into vehicles; and

• Activity vs. Deadman Time: The percent of time vehicle operators are actively using vehicles (in motion or lifting), compared to the time they are sitting or standing on their vehicles, ready for work.

I.D. Systems then filtered two data points from each KPI:

• The average percentage for each KPI for each industry, and

• The 85th percentile percentage for each KPI for each industry (as a mark of excellence to aspire to).

I was a bit disappointed in our first look at the numbers. We didn’t see any dramatic differences between the three groups. But when Roger Tenney, director of business intelligence for I.D. Systems, took a deeper dive, he came up with some interesting findings. First, he found that only 15% of the 3PLs have their operators within a standard deviation of the average. The balance were either higher or lower. That points to the variability in a 3PL’s business. Second, the data show that if a vehicle was turned on, 3PLs were more likely to have an operator on the seat or in the operator compartment. That doesn’t mean that a seven-hour shift translated to seven hours of forklift activity. Tenney says that the reality is most operations used their forklifts for four on average. Of those four hours, how much work gets done?

“Half of manufacturers and distributors are within a standard deviation of the other—meaning all of them behave the same,” Tenney says. “In the 3PL they don’t. A very large portion exceeds the average. 47% do better than the average. The best in their organization are significantly better than the distributors and manufacturers."

There could be a number of reasons for that. The 3PLs in this sample may have lower employee turnover rates, resulting in more consistent operation. The 3PLs may offer more benefits and incentives. Those incentives may result in people performing at higher peak levels, and when they’re on those vehicles, they’re more productive with them—and safer.

Many of the forklift OEMs we spoke with for the cover story mentioned vehicle telemetry as a trend—the ability not only to gauge productivity, but safety—and lack thereof. These systems indicate when a forklift makes damaging contact with an object or person and they help ensure proper maintenance.

They also tell a lot about the operators, and help ensure that only the people certified to operate a particular lift truck are operating it. Managers can identify the worst operators and help them improve their skills. They can also make sure that the necessary inspections are done before a lift truck is used.

All of these metrics are designed to improve both productivity and safety in the workplace. But it’s up to you to connect those two data points in your head first.