National Forklift Safety Day 2019 focuses on progress, best practices
Speakers at annual event outline efforts to promote forklift safety, including practical steps to support operator and pedestrian safety.
By Toby Gooley
Members of the Industrial Truck Association (ITA), which represents forklift manufacturers and suppliers of associated components and accessories, sponsored the sixth annual National Forklift Safety Day in Washington, D.C., on June 11. The event provides an opportunity for the industry to educate customers, government officials, and other stakeholders about the safe use of forklifts and the importance of proper operator training. ITA members manufacture over 90 percent of the forklifts and similar powered industrial trucks sold in North America. The organization promotes standards development, advances safe forklift design and use, disseminates statistical information, and holds industry forums.
The Washington program featured a panel of experts who spoke on a range of safety-related topics. Among the highlights:
- ITA President Brian Feehan and Scott Johnson, ITA chairman and vice president of sales and marketing, Clark Material Handling (pictured above), led off with overviews of the purpose of National Forklift Safety Day. Noting that the powered industrial truck industry contributes $25 billion annually to the U.S. economy, Johnson reported that 2018 marked the fourth consecutive year of record-breaking sales and the ninth consecutive year of growth for the U.S. industrial truck market. He also cited ITA's estimate that there are approximately 4.5 million forklift operators in the United States. With the number of operators expected to grow, that attention-getting statistic helps to reinforce to those outside the industry why forklift safety matters more than ever, he said.
- Loren Sweatt, acting assistant secretary, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), began by noting that nearly 800 OSHA compliance officers have been trained through a longstanding alliance between the agency and ITA. She then turned to the difficult subject of forklift-related injuries and fatalities. In 2017, 54 forklift-related fatalities and approximately 7,500 accidents involving days away from work were reported, she said. While fatalities were down compared to the previous year, the agency's objective is to have no fatalities, she said. Toward that end, "OSHA will continue to enforce" compliance with safety regulations "fully and fairly," she said. Noting that violations of OSHA's powered industrial truck standard rank seventh among the 10 most-often cited violations of OSHA regulations, Sweatt acknowledged that the agency has more work to do to improve its outreach to forklift end users.
- Charles Brooks, a senior safety professional with Risk Consultants of America, said the most common causes of the forklift-related accidents he sees include improper load handling and management; inadequate job design and/or failure to follow the forklift manufacturer's and general safety guidelines; and unsafe warehouse layout and poor facility "housekeeping." Brooks illustrated those problems by describing several of the accidents he's investigated. In regard to unsafe warehouse layout, for example, he showed a photo of a workstation located near storage aisles that had no protective barriers to prevent accidental contact between forklifts and an employee working at the desk.
- National Forklift Safety Day Chairman Don Buckman, who is also environmental health and safety manager and corporate responsibility leader for Hyster-Yale Group's Americas Division, set a goal for ITA's members. "Moving forklifts out of OSHA's 'Top 10' violations list must be one of our top priorities," he said. He cited a number of common causes of forklift accidents, including operators failing to recognize and appropriately respond to changes in loads and the surrounding environment; excessive speed; operating with elevated loads; insufficient pedestrian and vehicle warnings and safety markings in facilities; and workplace layouts that compromise visibility and traffic flow. "Facility operators have to recognize that most accidents are not caused by fluke events. Rather, they are caused by known and recognizable conditions that are preventable," he said. Buckman urged more emphasis on the safety of pedestrians, including employees, contractors, and visitors. The equipment safety program Hyster-Yale Group follows in its own facilities pays special attention to pedestrians, he said. Among the examples he gave were a requirement that pedestrians wait until a forklift operator acknowledges their presence by waving to them before they cross the forklift's path, and a rule that employees may use mobile phones only while standing in designated, clearly identified "cell phone areas" that are isolated from forklift travel paths.
- Brian Duffy, director of corporate environmental and manufacturing safety for Crown Equipment Corp., spoke about developing a "culture of safety"—something he said cannot be forced and must be cultivated over time. Duffy discussed how companies could encourage compliance by taking human behavior and psychology into consideration when designing safety programs. One such "behavior-based" effort is Crown's "Safe Steps" safety program. Its peer-to-peer approach motivates employees to participate and do their best, he said. The focus is on observation and feedback, not just by pointing out mistakes but also through recognizing and reinforcing safe, compliant behaviors, he explained. Employees are trained to observe and respond to peers' unsafe behavior in a positive, supportive way—for example, by expressing concerns about the co-worker's own safety, and by coaching rather than criticizing. The consequences for both good and bad behaviors are designed to strengthen or weaken behaviors as appropriate, Duffy said.
Attendees also had the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill for meetings with representatives, senators, and congressional staffers. At the top of their agenda: enhancing business stability and predictability by getting the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) through Congress, and voicing opposition to punitive tariffs against Chinese products, parts, and materials used by forklift makers in the United States.
In addition to the Washington program, forklift manufacturers and dealers around the country held local events to enhance awareness of safe practices in warehouses, distribution centers, manufacturing plants, and other environments where forklifts are in use.
About the Author
Contributing Editor Toby Gooley is a freelance writer and editor specializing in supply chain, logistics, material handling, and international trade. She previously was Senior Editor at DC VELOCITY and Editor of DCV's sister publication, CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. Prior to joining AGiLE Business Media in 2007, she spent 20 years at Logistics Management magazine as Managing Editor and Senior Editor covering international trade and transportation. Prior to that she was an export traffic manager for 10 years. She holds a B.A. in Asian Studies from Cornell University.
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