The forklift industry will once again be out in force in Washington, D.C., as members of the Industrial Truck Association (ITA) take part in the group's fifth annual National Forklift Safety Day. This event, scheduled for June 12 in the nation's capital and across the country, will provide 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 partners with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other safety-focused organizations.
To learn more about the event, we spoke with Scott Johnson, newly elected chairman of ITA's board of directors. Johnson, a 20-year veteran of the material handling industry, is vice president of marketing and sales for Lexington, Ky.-based forklift manufacturer Clark Material Handling Co. Johnson joined Clark in 1995; prior to taking on his current responsibilities, he held the positions of vice president of dealer services, vice president of business development, director of marketing, director of aftermarket sales, and regional sales manager, trucks and parts. Johnson has long been active in ITA, having previously served on its Statistics Committee and Executive Committee. An active member of the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association (MHEDA), he holds a degree from the University of Kentucky. Here's what he had to say.
Q: What is the Industrial Truck Association's mission, and who are its members?
A: For more than 65 years, the Industrial Truck Association has been the leading organization for manufacturers of forklifts and other types of industrial trucks, including the suppliers of industrial truck component parts and accessories. We have a diverse international membership, and we cover products shipped into the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Based in Washington, D.C., ITA is an influential voice in national and international standards development for the industry. We advance engineering practices to promote safer products, disseminate statistical marketplace information, and provide industry forums for learning and networking.
We have two categories of members. Our regular members are the primary manufacturers of forklift trucks shipped into North America. Lift trucks have been used for material handling in the United States since 1917, and we have ITA members that date back to that beginning. Our associate members include suppliers that provide components, accessories, and attachments and the inputs used in manufacturing state-of-the-art industrial trucks—everything from the steel to the tires to the controllers. Collectively, we address the top issues that impact today's market, working to ensure that we have products that will best serve our customers in the future.
We also maintain relationships with international associations in our industry, primarily the Japanese Industrial Vehicle Association, the Chinese Industrial Truck Association, and the Industrial Truck Division of the Federation of European Manufacturers. Along with ITA, these organizations constitute the Alliance of Industrial Truck Organizations, which pursues globalized standards and collects market data in the form of its "World Industrial Truck Statistics" reports.
Our members are the backbone of an industry that has a significant impact on the national economy, contributing over $25 billion to U.S. gross domestic product annually. For every worker directly employed by the industrial truck sector, another 2.5 jobs are supported in the wider economy. Our industry hires more military veterans—10 percent of our total employment—than all other manufacturing groups and industry at large. We've been breaking records for shipments, with over a quarter of a million units last year, which follows two previous record years. In short, ITA is a busy association in a thriving industry.
Q: How does the organization's work benefit the end users of lift trucks?
A: The association devotes significant time and resources toward developing and improving standards that enhance the products our members sell. One of the ways that ITA promotes safety is through our formal alliance with OSHA, through which, among other things, we provide forklift safety seminars to OSHA personnel. We estimate we've reached over 600 OSHA specialists with the program. And as the driving force behind OSHA's adoption of an effective operator-training regulation some years ago, we remain committed to the idea that a better-trained operator is a safer operator.
Q: what will be your personal priorities as ITA's new chair?
A: We have a robust and mature association that has benefited from years of excellent leadership, so I'd obviously like to continue that tradition. For the near term, I'd like to see our group continue to work closely with OSHA on a regulatory initiative to update OSHA regulations dealing with powered industrial trucks. Specifically, we want the federal regulation to reference the latest edition of the national consensus standard that covers our products. Believe it or not, the federal regulation currently references the 1969 version of the standard—we want it to reference the 2016 version because that represents nearly 50 years of improvement in the standards that we use to build our forklifts. The work is well under way, but I'd like to see it over the finish line as soon as possible.
I also want us to continue developing metrics and reporting tools that reflect the positive impact we have on the overall U.S. economy, continue developing standards that promote safer products, grow our membership, and constantly look for ways to enhance our members' opportunities for success. I'm going to work with ITA's full-time staff in Washington, D.C., to continue and build on what has been a very successful association.
Q: This year marks the fifth annual National Forklift Safety Day. What has this event accomplished to date, and will ITA continue these efforts in the future?
A: At a recent ITA meeting we reflected on the previous four years of National Forklift Safety Day. Overall, we're very pleased with the year-over-year progress of this initiative. Attendance in D.C. has increased each year, as has the diversity of our speakers. Member-company events at their local facilities have continued to develop, with more and more manufacturers hosting open houses and other public events to promote the day. We've partnered with well-known material handling organizations like MHI, MHEDA, and DC Velocity to promote and support National Forklift Safety Day, and we intend to continue learning and improving on our experience.
Q: What's the main message ITA would like DC Velocity's readers to take away from National Forklift Safety Day?
A: The main message is the importance of forklift operator and pedestrian safety, emphasizing that different stakeholders working together—manufacturers, dealers, employers and employees, and federal and state safety officials—will drive continued declines in the accident rate. We know from the data that better operator training is critical, so we'll continue to promote it at every opportunity.
We believe that the OSHA operator-training regulation provides an excellent template for a training and evaluation program, so the most important thing is to increase meaningful compliance with it, especially by smaller companies and for the most vulnerable employees, such as younger operators and temporary workers. Our National Forklift Safety Day program will advance those themes and promote the idea that safety is a shared goal.