Can Forklift Operations Impact Your BOTTOM LINE?

Forklifts are indispensable to many businesses. Forklifts represent a large initial capital investment, and they cost employers thousands to keep them running. As needed as they are, forklift operations often are a company’s greatest risk and liability. The damage a forklift does to product, truck doors, racks, walls, and company facilities in general is staggering. Employers often pay thousands per year to repair the damage from forklift operations.

The human risk factor is high, as forklifts, due to their heavy weight, either shear off body parts, or crush them leaving permanent nerve and vascular damage. In the United States, a person dies every 3 days, and a person is hurt every 6 minutes by forklift operation.

How does an employer successfully manage such an irreplaceable part of their business, and limit the risks to people and things?

Step 1 – Take Control.

Forklift operators need to perform their jobs in a safe, efficient manner. It is management’s responsibility to aggressively manage its forklift operators. You will never reduce risk if you allow the operators to have free rein.

Step 2 -Train the right way.

Effective forklift operator training accomplishes several things. The information is easily understood, is presented in a multi-media format, and is internalized by the students through awareness and motivation. Just telling the operator what to do is not enough-you must hit awareness and motivation. Consistent enforcement by a well-trained management team is vital.

Step 3 – Monitor behaviors.

Reward good forklift operator behaviors, and discipline for poor behavior. Many times operators are waiting for management to discipline someone before they will believe management is serious about how forklifts are operated. Do not disappoint them!

What are the warning signs that your company is about to have forklift injury accident?

Property damage

“First you see forklift damage-things like product damage, warehouse racks dented, broken pallet boards, doors hit, poles hit, protection barriers hit. If you ignore the property damage, you will hurt a person – it’s only a matter of time.”

Equipment damage

NIOSH states “80% of forklift repair and maintenance costs are due to operator abuse of the equipment.” The main causes of equipment breakdown are vibration (traveling with excessive speed on uneven surfaces, or hard contact with heavy objects); heat often caused by incorrect battery use; pushing the forklift beyond its design intents, as in picking up over-capacity loads; or bulldozing pallets on the floor. If your fleet is always being repaired, it is a sure sign that the operators are not driving their equipment in a safe manner.

People complaints

When a person (regularly an employee) reports a forklift operator is dangerous, it’s usually just the tip of the iceberg. Many others will come forward after the injury/accident and tell management that they also knew the operator was dangerous. The lesson here is simple: When management hears about an operator being unsafe, a full investigation needs to take place, just like you would do if the operator had killed or injured someone. If others agree that this operator is unsafe, remove the operator from driving until you can determine the best course of action.

How do I protect my company’s assets against lawsuits from my forklift operators injuring or killing someone?

The company who wins in court must have several areas in order.

1. Train the operator effectively.
2. Enforce what you train, including discipline.
3. Discipline must be quick, progressive, and uniform in nature.
4. Do not violate the regulations for forklift operation.
5. Be aggressive in being proactive to stop injuries.
6. Document everything you do in your forklift program.
7. Remove pedestrians from forklift areas. (Outside truck drivers need to be kept away from the forklifts.)
8. Investigate close calls as if someone died – resolve behaviors quickly.

The employer has the responsibility to provide a safe work environment and to minimize or remove the risks to the people at the worksite. You had better be able to stand up in court and prove you have taken this huge risk seriously, and have done due diligence to prevent accidents.

“The significant problems we face today cannot be solved by the mindsets that created them.”
— Albert Einstein

Nick Barta – Bottom Line Training Services

You can contact Nick via email