‘People have been gored, impaled and crushed,” reports safety consultant Rick Kaletsky, speaking about mishaps resulting from the improper handling of forklifts in warehouses.
Indeed, tens of thousands of injuries related to powered industrial trucks take place in workplaces each year. Injuries occur for several reasons: lift trucks are inadvertently driven off loading docks or fall between docks and an unsecured trailer, or pallets fall while on elevated pallets and tines.
Most incidents also involve property damage, including damage to stored warehouse materials, racks and machinery.
According to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), most employee injuries and property damage can be attributed to a lack of safe operating procedures or safety-rule enforcement, and insufficient or inadequate training. Government safety regulations say driving a forklift requires special training. In fact, due to the number of incidents each year, such training is more important today than ever before.
Supervalu Inc. has always placed a high value on proper training for forklift operators, relates Jim Koskan, corporate director of risk control for the giant wholesale distributor based in Minneapolis.
“These machines are effective product-movement devices and can add much to the operational efficiencies of warehouse operations,” he says. “However, if not operated properly, that advantage is lost. Unsafe operation will lead to lost operational efficiency.”
It can also lead to serious injury and death. Kaletsky, author of OSHA Inspections: Preparation and Response, available from the National Safety Council, says increasing workplace mishaps prompted the government agency to issue more elaborate training regulations in December 1998.
“The former training was thin and non-specific,” says Kaletsky, “but we can also say that the need for better training was partially a result of how many serious injuries and fatalities have occurred relating to forklifts. Most of those accidents involved a person getting hit.”
Before the issuance of the OSHA regulations, there were always standards for low-lift and high-lift trucks and training requirements, according to Jean Bilitz, a workplace safety editor with J.J. Keller & Associates, a Neenah, WI-based firm that offers consulting services and training tools.
“But, of course, employers pay more attention to OSHA when they put out requirements. Its rules on operator training were more detailed than the previous operator training requirement, which was just a couple of sentences,” she recalls.
Years ago, training typically involved a short video presentation, often provided by the equipment supplier, and some one-on-one instruction. After that, the operator’s skills were developed by simply operating the equipment on the job.
“Today, the classroom and hands-on components are far more robust,” says Supervalu’s Koskan. “Most organizations also incorporate structured, hands-on training and follow-up. In addition, re-training is also common.”
There are several warehouse and forklift safety training options available today. Warehouse operators can choose from pre-packaged training kits, outsourced training and in-house training. They need to decide which one is most suitable for their workplaces to ensure that operators are getting comprehensive training.
“The units available today are more complex and do require more training than in the past,” says Koskan. “All three methods can be effective. Each organization will make choices based on what fits into their structure best.
“However, most organizations that I am aware of will customize the approach taken to better reflect the unique needs of their operations,” he continues. “Smaller organizations have less flexibility in that regard due to expense, so they often utilize in-house or supplier-provided materials.”