April 25, 2016
material handling update | Lift Trucks

Focus on forklift safety

DC Velocity talks with National Forklift Safety Day 2016 Chair Jim Radous about the goals of the third annual safety-focused event sponsored by the Industrial Truck Association.

By DC Velocity Staff

Forklift safety will be a hot topic on Capitol Hill again this spring. On June 14, members of the Industrial Truck Association (ITA) and others will take part in the organization's third annual National Forklift Safety Day. This event provides an opportunity for the industry to educate customers, the public, and government officials about the safe use of forklifts and the importance of proper operator training.

Safety is one of Washington, D.C.-based ITA's biggest priorities. The organization, which represents manufacturers of lift trucks, tow tractors, pallet trucks, and automated guided vehicles in North America, promotes international standards for product safety, advances engineering and safety practices, and offers free safety seminars for OSHA personnel. ITA also disseminates statistical information and holds industry forums. ITA says it hopes National Forklift Safety Day will provide greater awareness of safe practices as well as encourage safer behavior in warehouses, distribution centers, and manufacturing plants. That's a laudable goal and something that directly affects every environment where forklifts are in use.

To learn more about the event, we spoke with James J. Radous III, president of forklift manufacturer UniCarriers Americas Corp. and the National Forklift Safety Day 2016 chair. Here's what he had to say.

Q: What is the purpose of National Forklift Safety Day?

A: You asked about NFSD's purpose, but we think of it more as a mission. That mission is to reduce forklift accidents and to improve operator training. One key to improved operator training, of course, is to increase the awareness of its importance. This year, we expanded the scope to include pedestrian awareness as well.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in a four-year period including 2011 to 2014, 261 workers were killed in industrial truck accidents where the industrial truck was identified as the primary cause. Accidents and injuries, including fatalities, have been declining, but we need to keep driving those numbers down, because losing even one person is a tragedy.

Of course, we want organizations to focus on safety every day, not just on National Forklift Safety Day, but it's good to have a special day to highlight the issue. We're not just discussing this among ourselves within the industry, by the way. We also talk to national policymakers, and we were successful in getting a number of states to pass National Forklift Safety Day resolutions last year.

Q: What activities will the June 14 event in Washington include?

A: In the morning, we will have speakers, including forklift industry leaders like Brett Wood, chairman of Toyota Material Handling North America, who currently serves as chairman of ITA's board of directors. I will also be speaking as chair of National Forklift Safety Day. We will also hear from Jordan Barab, who is the deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, and second in command at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). We will also have someone from the National Safety Council as a speaker because we want to extend the discussion to include pedestrian safety. And we will hear from Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan, who heads the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, which has OSHA oversight.

In the afternoon, we will have congressional meetings on Capitol Hill. Our purpose there is to make legislators aware of what we're doing and to thank them for their support of our agenda. Interestingly, several of the people we've met with in Congress have driven forklifts themselves, maybe for a summer job when they were in college, so they have an idea of what we're talking about.

Q: Tell us about ITA's relationship with OSHA.

A: We believe that we have an excellent relationship with OSHA because we've put a lot of effort into it. We've had a national alliance with OSHA for over 12 years now, and we'll formally renew that alliance for another five years the day before National Forklift Safety Day. We've given over 25 forklift safety seminars for OSHA personnel throughout the country, and we're planning on doing five more this year, which will give us a total of about 600 OSHA attendees for full-day safety sessions, which have been very well received.

We think these efforts and other alliance activities give us a reputation with OSHA as an organization that's committed to and knowledgeable about industrial truck safety. Even before our alliance began, ITA successfully petitioned OSHA to adopt detailed operator-training regulations that seem to have reduced accidents dramatically. Our current regulatory project is to ask OSHA to update its regulations to recognize the latest consensus forklift safety standard, updating the regulatory reference from the 1969 version of the standard to the 2012 version. This will recognize a significant number of safety improvements in forklifts over the last several decades. What all of this means is that we see a lot of value and put a lot of emphasis on our relationship with OSHA.

Q: How will ITA members be recognizing National Forklift Safety Day at the local level?

A: The best way to reach forklift owners is through their local dealers. A lot of dealers will be offering free operator training on that day. The free training day at the regional level is something we're really pushing. It was very successful last year. My company, for example, had completely full rosters all day long at all of the facilities where we offered it. If we can multiply that by all of our members' dealerships, then we'll really make an impact. We're developing online safety information and other materials we can get into the hands of the dealers and the end users.

Q: What is the main message ITA would like DC Velocity's readers to take away from National Forklift Safety Day?

A: The main message is that the most important asset in business is your employees and that the safety of your employees—not just forklift operators but also pedestrians—should be paramount. We need to provide a safe environment in order to consistently reduce accidents and hopefully eliminate mishaps related to the operation of forklifts.

Have you ever gone on YouTube and searched for "forklift accident"? You get over 120,000 results! Not all are U.S.-based, of course, but you can see what kinds of things happen when people don't follow safe practices.

There are so many examples of improper operation. Driving too fast, turning too fast, failing to warn pedestrians, improper braking, improperly securing a load—the list goes on and on. More than anything else, safety depends on a combination of properly maintained equipment and the right training for people. That's our message for National Forklift Safety Day.

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