Andel On Lift Trucks: The Price of Ignorance is Death

July 1, 2006
You don’t buy lift truck safety. You live it.

Operators may be able to quote OSHA guidelines chapter and verse, but mid-and upper managers must also be committed to lift truck safety.

He was only 28 when it happened; only on the job five weeks. But with four years' experience working around lift trucks, he figured fate couldn't throw anything at him he couldn't outmaneuver. That was his first and last mistake on this job.

He and a fellow worker were staking 40-foot-long I-beams in preparation for structural steel erection. After placing a 2 x 4-in. wooden spacer on the last I-beam on the stack, the lift truck operator approached with another I-beam. It wasn't secured or blocked on the lift truck tines. The I-beam fell, pinning the 28-yearyoung worker between the fallen beam and those he was stacking.

Did this employer have a safety and health program in place? No, says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) report. Was the worksite inspected regularly? No. Was site-specific lift truck safety training provided to operators and co-workers? No. Three strikes and one life snuffed out.

As horrible as this case is, it's not unusual. Lift truck accidents are the second leading cause of fatalities in the private sector (highway vehicles being the first), according to OSHA. But you don't have to be in the driver's seat to be a statistic. Just being around lift trucks calls for training.

Whether you're an operator or a pedestrian, you need to maintain your smarts around lift trucks. Training must combine classroom instruction with practical exercises (lift truck operation) and be workplace-specific.

Boardroom offices are also workplaces, and the executives who occupy them need to be as smart as everyone else about lift trucks. Operators may be able to quote OSHA guidelines chapter and verse, but unless mid-and upper management are committed to safety and to proper equipment selection, supervisors and operators can't be as effective as they'd like to be.

Jim Shephard sees this kind of organizational disconnect all the time. He's president of Shephard's Industrial Training Systems, Inc. (Memphis, Tenn.). He says that in most of the plants where he conducts lift truck training, the organizations are not prepared to be trained.

"When we put our training in we see a tremendous reduction in incidents," Shephard says, "but within a year and a half, the incident rate skyrockets back up and beyond where they started." That's because the changes aren't institutionalized and built into the organization's standards and practices. It's up to managers to make this happen.

This lesson sank in after a recent meeting with a plant safety manager. Shephard asked if he could meet with the manager's upper management before embarking on his training program. He soon realized that this organization was not only unprepared for training, but that training would be a real bottleneck in their operations because the company's trucks were in various stages of disrepair. The entire management team needed to understand the scope of the necessary changes (i.e., scheduled preventive maintenance) and make sure these practices would be perpetuated by future employees.

Training goes beyond the truck you're purchasing. It's all about the plant setting and the corporate culture. To do it right, if it's an order picking application, the whole work methodology needs to be addressed. It's also important that operators realize why trucks are being implemented as opposed to just saying "Here's your new truck and here's how it works."

It is a matter of life or death.

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