Most – if not all – warehouse managers and supervisors would agree that safety should play a critical role in the warehouse; in addition to employee well-being, a safe environment helps improve efficiency and productivity levels to boost the company’s bottom line. However, there are obstacles that can make it difficult to establish a pervasive safety culture.
Everything from seasonal surges to supply chain issues can emerge and increase the pressure to “get the product out the door.” This can lead to temptations to rush new hire training, to rush (or skip) pre-shift inspections, to postpone equipment and facilities maintenance, and even to delay needed repairs. Submitting to these temptations is like rolling a snowball down a hill; the problem doesn’t go away, it just grows.
Though it takes time to address underlying issues to create an environment continuously focused on safe operations, the benefits can be significant and extend well beyond compliance and injury prevention. Below are key areas of focus that are critical to warehouse productivity, cost control, and most importantly, safety.
Evaluate your forklift operator training process. Forklift operator training should consist of three parts: classroom training, hands-on training on the equipment, and performance training and evaluation in the workplace. Classroom training helps teach safe forklift operation and general material handling processes. Hands-on training on the forklift helps to build skill and put to use the safe operating habits taught in the classroom. Training in workplace performance adds the application-specific elements needed to do the job safely and confirms operators can safely do so.
All three parts are equally important and are required to meet the OSHA operator certification requirements. And, upon completion, you have a forklift operator ready to work safely.
Reinforce Safety Habits
Formal forklift operator training typically takes place in a couple of days. Ongoing reinforcement of safe operating skills, process and behavior is the only way to ensure those safe practices and behaviors are retained and used in the workplace. Every workplace is different and has its own set of rules. It’s the job of supervisors and warehouse managers to help ensure operators know and understand how to do their work safely every day. This requirement doesn’t go away after the official certification process is complete. Feedback – both on elements that are performed correctly and those that need more practice – goes a long way toward establishing an ongoing dialogue about safety in the workplace.
Preshift inspections and planned maintenance are both essential elements of safe forklift operation; however, in a busy warehouse environment, there is the potential for one or both of them to be overlooked for the sake of short-term productivity.
It is incorrect to think that pre-shift inspections or “minor” repairs, such as inoperative horns or brakes in need of adjustment, can be skipped to avoid downtime – and it is against OSHA regulations. Repair shortcuts and cheap parts can affect equipment performance, shorten the time before more thorough repairs are needed, raise costs and result in even more downtime.
Developing and adhering to a maintenance program doesn’t have to be cumbersome. Using a forklift fleet and operator management system, warehouse managers can maintain compliance with OSHA regulations by monitoring and logging both the completion of daily operator checklists, as well as the amount of time operators spend performing safety checks. If users are not in compliance, managers can make adjustments to help improve safety in the facility. And, maintenance information from the forklift fleet and operator management system provides the data supervisors need to manage both routine and unexpected maintenance, which further improves safety and productivity.
Monitor, Measure, Adjust and Repeat
Safety in the warehouse is not a task that can be encouraged once and then neglected. It’s an ongoing process of monitoring what works and what doesn’t, reviewing as much actual, real-time data as possible about impacts and incidents, adjusting practices where needed and continually evaluating the whole process. Because each warehouse is unique, what works in one facility may not work in another – even for the same company.
One of our customers recognized that for their forklift operators to take safety seriously, they needed to demonstrate their commitment. One step in meeting that goal was to repair, repaint and restore their trucks to near-new condition. Then, as part of their maintenance program, they required operators to keep their forklifts looking as new as possible, meaning trucks needed to be painted or serviced for each ding, dent and scratch. That change, paired with visual cues such as stop signs at the end of rack aisles and signs throughout the facility prompting operators on safe processes, helped to reduce incidents substantially in less than a year. Plus, the company saw a reduction in product and facilities damage and the need for reactive maintenance.
Instead of viewing safety in their facility as an obligation to be re-certified every three years, they created an environment where safety is infused into their culture, and that has had a positive impact on overall quality, efficiency and productivity.
In order to establish a culture of safety, managers and supervisors must set the expectation for a safe environment, then help operators to develop and maintain good habits and demonstrate safe performance on a daily basis. Operators are charged with learning the rules of safe forklift operation, as well as the specific rules for their work environment, and applying those every day. By working together, managers, supervisors and operators can help to create a pervasive, continual safety culture.
Ron Brewer is Crown Equipment’s manager of operator training.