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Brian Feehan is president of the Industrial Truck Association (ITA), which represents the manufacturers of lift trucks and their suppliers who do business in Canada, the United States, or Mexico. In addition to lift trucks, ITA members manufacture tow tractors, rough terrain vehicles, hand-pallet trucks and automated guided vehicles. He has served as ITA’s president since 2011. Before joining ITA, Feehan held the positions of vice president of the Propane Educational & Research Council; executive director of the Propane Vehicle Council; and projects director at the World Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 00:01
A focus on safety. More labor troubles on the West Coast. And the logistics industry takes a sharp turn downward.
Pull up a chair and join us as the editors of DC Velocity discuss these stories, as well as news and supply chain trends, on this week's Logistics Matters podcast.
Hi, I'm Dave Maloney. I'm the group editorial director at DC Velocity. Welcome.
Logistics Matters is sponsored by PERC, the Propane Education Research Council. Propane is the safe, reliable energy for material handling. Propane-powered forklifts can improve air quality inside your facilities for a healthier, more productive workforce. See how propane can give your productivity a boost at propane.com/forklifts.
As usual, our DC Velocity senior editors Ben Ames and Victoria Kickham will be along to provide their insights into the top stories of this week. But to begin today: for the past decade, the industrial truck industry — basically, those folks who manufacture or sell and use forklifts — has held National Forklift Safety Day to recognize the importance of safety when operating and working around forklifts. It will take place this Tuesday, and here to talk about it is our good friend Brian Feehan, the president of the Industrial Truck Association.
Welcome, Brian, good to have you on Logistics Matters.
Brian Feehan, President, Industrial Truck Association 01:27
Well, thank you, Dave. I appreciate the opportunity to be with you guys today.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 01:32
Brian, first of all, can you tell us a bit about the ITA, the Industrial Truck Association?
Brian Feehan, President, Industrial Truck Association 01:38
Yeah. The ITA, you know, we've been around for, in its current form, for just over 70 years now. And we're a traditional trade association representing the interests of the manufacturers of powered industrial trucks and their supply chain base, which are our associate members. We've got 22 brands that represent about 90% of North American unit sales [for] Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and the supply chain base is made up of the components, parts, and accessories that the manufacturers require to complete the build of their products. We work on a variety of issues, including statistics — we track statistics very closely for the manufacturers and disseminate that information in aggregate form back to them on a monthly basis — and we also have a significant general engineering committee, which works on safety practices and recommendations to the ANSI [American National Standards Institute] 56 standards groups to ensure that we have the safest products out there in operation.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 02:38
And safety is the focus, of course, coming up this Tuesday with National Forklift Safety Day. Can you tell us a bit about how it originated and what it's all about?
Brian Feehan, President, Industrial Truck Association 02:48
Yeah, National Forklift Safety Day —so, this is our 10th anniversary, which is amazing, to think the time has gone that quickly — and it's really an awareness campaign designed to educate the industry as well as all stakeholders involved in powered industrial trucks: The need for operator training, and the continued need for operator training. It's not only an awareness campaign, but also we reinforce that operator training is the law required by OSHA [the Occupational Safety & Health Administration]. And there's a lot of technology that's out there today that can help improve safety, but the need for operator training continues to be the number-one priority for the industry, and that's one of the primary messages that we disseminate throughout National Forklift Safety Day.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 03:30
And of course, safety has been an important focus for the ITA and its members for a long time. Why such an emphasis on safety?
Brian Feehan, President, Industrial Truck Association 03:37
Well, safety has always been paramount to the industry, as you noted, and you know, we want to ensure that every worker gets home safe every day after each shift. So therefore, the awareness campaign around National Forklift Safety Day is designed to help improve those numbers that we see out there today, as well as ensuring that people recognize that operator safety and operator training are requirements to having good operations.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 03:41
And it was mentioned the recognition of National Forklift Safety Day will be this coming Tuesday. How can people participate?
Brian Feehan, President, Industrial Truck Association 04:13
Well, it's free, and it's available to anybody, not just ITA members, but we encourage people from the industry and outside the industry, those that utilize the product, to go to our website, which is I-N-D-T-R-K dot org, and register to participate and listen to it and watch it live. It's going to be live streamed. It'll take place, as you mentioned, on June 13, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and it will be held at the National Press Club. We'll have about 50 or 60 people in person, but really, the awareness campaign, we started in 2020 through streaming live during the pandemic, we were able to utilize and reach an awful lot of more people that are involved in the industry, so we've kept that format. And last year we had just over 800 people register for the event, and we're hoping that we get similar numbers this year. I-N-D-T-R-K dot org is where you can go to register for the event.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 05:08
I-N-D-T-R-K dot org. What will actually take place in Washington that day?
Brian Feehan, President, Industrial Truck Association 05:14
So, we've got a great lineup of speakers. Our current chairman for National Forklift Safety Day is Chuck Pascarelli, the president of the Americas for Hyster-Yale Group. He also serves as the ITA chairman of the board of directors. So, he'll get up and speak and talk a little bit about what's going on in the industry and what's taken place over the past several decades of safety and improvements to safety. We'll also hear from Doug Parker, who is the assistant secretary for the Department of Labor and the head of OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. We'll also hear from Ed Stilwell, who is the chief of technology for innovation for Hyster-Yale Group. He's going to talk about some of the latest developments from a technology perspective. And we'll hear from Michael Wood, who is a safety expert, and he'll talk about the cultural requirements of installing a good cultural system around safety in the organization from top to bottom.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 06:14
Sounds like a great lineup. Are events also taking place elsewhere, besides Washington, D.C.?
Brian Feehan, President, Industrial Truck Association 06:19
Well, that's one of the things we've been trying to achieve over the years, is to not only have this event take place in Washington, but to also have our members and other people involved in the industry to organize local events, and we'll see several of those local events taking place across the country at manufacturer facilities, dealerships, and other locations that are pushing this message of safety and operator training, so it's something that really started taking off before the pandemic. And then clearly, with the pandemic, some of those activities were slowed down or halted. But now a lot of those fears are gone and the restrictions, we're pleased to see that there will be other events taking place, and those are going to be held and organized by individual companies and individual dealerships.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 07:05
Brian, you mentioned this is the 10th anniversary of National Forklift Safety Day. Are we seeing any improvements in the reduction of injuries and accidents over the last few decades, and, of course, in the last decade since National Forklift Safety Day began?
Brian Feehan, President, Industrial Truck Association 07:21
Well, you really saw a beginning of the reduction in injuries in accidents take place in 1998, when OSHA passed the regulation and law requiring operator training for operators of forklifts and powered industrial trucks — a tremendous decrease in the number of accidents and injuries since that time, and that's continued that path. Since the beginning of National Forklift Safety Day, we've seen an awful lot of new products entering into the marketplace, so the overall pie of the powered industrial-truck market space has grown tremendously in terms of numbers of units that are out in the market. However, we've also been seeing kind of a flatline in terms of injuries and accidents, so we believe that with the increased number of units in the marketplace, the awareness campaign around National Forklift Safety Day and the lack of increase of injuries and accidents, we believe that we're having a positive effect in the market.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 08:17
I believe so as well. Are there some quick safety practices that you can share when operating or being near industrial trucks such as forklifts?
Brian Feehan, President, Industrial Truck Association 08:26
Well, the one thing that I always like to refer people to is the operator daily checklist. You know, that's something that everybody in every organization should have readily available for their operators, and the operators need to go through that operator checklist on a daily basis before they begin their shifts. That's — that, and the operator training, which will go through and highlight all of the operator, the daily checklist requirements, combined, help to improve the safety and the conditions of the environment in which they're working in. So, I would refer people to their daily operator checklists and ensure that that is something that's done on a regular basis.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 09:02
Good advice. If someone wants more information about the work of ITA, the industry Truck Association, how can they find out more?
Brian Feehan, President, Industrial Truck Association 09:09
Well, the best place to go is to our website, which is I-N-D-T-R-K dot org. Not only can you get information about National Forklift Safety Day there, and register for the event that's free on Tuesday, but a whole host of other information about what the industry, the organization does for the industry. And we'd welcome participation and you can communicate to us directly through that website.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 09:33
And again, that is I-N-D-T-R-K dot org, and we'll be putting a link on the podcast Notes section for the people who are listening to this podcast. They can go there and go directly to the ITA website. We've been talking with Brian Feehan, the president of the Industrial Truck Association. Thank you again, Brian, for being with us, and thanks for the good work that you continue to do with National Forklift Safety Day.
Brian Feehan, President, Industrial Truck Association 09:55
Thank you, Dave. We appreciate DC Velocity's support
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 10:00
Now let's take a look at some of the other supply chain news from the week. Ben, the big story this week has been the work stoppages at the West Coast ports and the effects those are having on supply chains. What's the latest?
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 10:12
Exactly. Freight appears to be moving smoothly again today through those West Coast maritime ports, but a lot of retailers and manufacturers got a real scare this week, when several of those container ports slowed or stopped operations in part. The reason for the disruption was a long-running labor dispute between the dock workers there, represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and their employers, who are the facility operators, and they're represented by the Pacific Maritime Association. Those dock workers have been working without a contract now for nearly a year, and talks had seemed to be moving forward, but then last Friday, various union workers walked off the job or failed to report to work. This was not a formal strike; it was scattered workers at different ports, but it all happened on the same day. so, obviously, there was some organization behind it. And a similar thing had happened just a couple of months ago in May. So, this week's action had pushed major retail groups like the Retail Industry Leaders Association, RILA, and the National Retail Federation to ask the White House to intervene at these negotiations to try to get that contract nailed down here. Now, as far as we know, that hasn't happened yet, the federal involvement, but it sure shows the level of concern.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 11:34
Yeah. And Ben, as you mentioned, a similar stoppage did happen a few weeks ago. So why are retailers and shippers so concerned this time?
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 11:43
Right. It's a question of timing. So, the average consumer may see these summer months — here we are in June — as a slow period, maybe vacation time, but in the logistics sector, we're about to enter, really, a critical period for importing all the inventory that stores need to meet those demand spikes that are just around the corner. We're talking about back-to-school season, and then of course, the winter peak shopping season. So if ports close or slow, even, in June and July, then store shelves and warehouses won't have all the inventory they need in September and November. Now shippers know that schedule very well, of course, so some of them have already been shifting their imports in recent weeks, like since that April closure, to Gulf Coast and East Coast ports, just to circumvent the West Coast ports altogether, but not everyone can do that. There's not enough capacity, it doesn't always make sense to move your inventory, you know, 3,000 miles away. Also, lately, there's been a tremendous drought in Central America in recent months, and those water levels in the Panama Canal have been running so low lately, that the canal has started putting weight limits on the boats that pass through, and that restricts the volume and also increases the price of moving goods through that way, According to Freightos — they've been tracking this; that's a freight booking platform. So at the moment, things can keep moving, in part because as Freightos said, there's some, what they call slack in the system, because our economy has been cooling down from these high interest rates and inflation rates, of course that we've been covering. But an extended labor stoppage at the West Coast ports, you know, with backup traffic far beyond the canal, including drayage, yards, trucking, intermodal, rail, and the longer it went on, the more time it would take to clear that congestion again. So again, we're in a delicate time right now. Things seem to be moving freely today, but this kind of activity makes logistics people very nervous.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 13:40
Right. And I imagine, Ben, that nervousness won't really end until labor peace is finally achieved.
Ben Ames, Senior News Editor, DC Velocity 13:46
That's exactly right. We're looking for that contract.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 13:49
Thanks, Ben. And Victoria, the latest numbers from the Logistics Managers' Index are in, and it shows we're entering an unprecedented territory. Can you share what the report says?
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 14:00
Yeah, absolutely. So, to continue on, the theme you and Ben were just talking about: so business conditions across the industry have been slowing down for the past year or so, and that follows red-hot demand for logistics services that started in mid-2020, driven primarily by the pandemic and an increase in all that e-commerce and home delivery that we experienced. In many ways, a slowing was inevitable and a way to get back to more typical industry growth, but, as you say, in May, conditions really slowed down and seem to reflect the effects of the freight recession, as well as persistent inflation and high interest rates. And this all comes from, as you say, the monthly Logistics Managers' Index report, which surveys logistics managers nationwide every month to get a pulse on what's happening in warehousing and transportation markets. And in May, the LMI, as it's known, contracted for the first time in the report's six-and-a-half-year history, and that essentially points to an overall lower demand for services. I should note that the report was published earlier this week, on Tuesday. A softening freight market is the driving factor behind the sluggish conditions. according to the LMI researchers. Transportation capacity remains loose, and both transportation utilization and prices remain near record lows, but inventory is also an issue. The LMI's inventory-levels index contracted for the first time in May as well, and the future conditions index for inventory is also down. Logistics managers surveyed in May said they expect inventory levels to drop even lower over the next 12 months. I spoke to LMI researcher Zac Rogers — he's a professor of supply chain management at Colorado State University — and he pointed out that the inventory issue may actually be a signal that companies have been successful in right-sizing their inventories over the last year. Our listeners may recall, in early 2022 there was a glut of inventory that really needed to be worked through, and Rogers said it looks like that has finally happened, and he added that the problem is that restocking that usually occurs about now for back-to-school season and [in] anticipation of holiday peak, as Ben mentioned, hasn't really materialized just yet.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 16:10
Did Zac or the other researchers indicate whether or not they believe that we've hit the bottom of this cycle?
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 16:16
Yeah. So, Rogers, he said it looks like we may be near, or at the bottom of this downturn, but that it really depends on a couple of things: interest rates and restocking for the holidays. High interest rates really affect the B2B market — you know, they keep people from buying big-ticket items that take up a lot of space on those trucks and in warehouses, you know, things like equipment, vehicles, appliances, and so forth. So, if rates come down or stabilize, that would really help B2B supply chains, and if inventory starts flowing to replenish for holiday peak, that will help as well. If those things don't happen, Rogers and his colleagues say they, you know, we could continue to see lower numbers like we saw in May. If they do, you know, then conditions should stabilize again. It really depends on what happens over the next few weeks.
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 17:04
It definitely will be very interesting peak season, and hopefully, we will see some rebound with the logistics industry heading into the positive growth direction once again. Thanks, Victoria.
Victoria Kickham, Senior Editor, DC Velocity 17:15
David Maloney, Editorial Director, DC Velocity 17:17
We encourage listeners to go to DCVelocity.com for more on these and other supply chain stories. Also check out our podcast Notes section for some direct links on the topics that we discussed today, including the website for the Industrial Truck Association.
And we'd like to thank Brian Feehan of the ITA for being our guest. We welcome your comments on this topic and our other stories. You can email us at email@example.com.
We also encourage you to subscribe to Logistics Matters at your favorite podcast platform. Our new episodes are uploaded on Fridays.
Speaking of subscribing, check out our sister podcast series Supply Chain in the Fast Lane. It's coproduced by the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals and Supply Chain Quarterly. We just started a new eight-part series on transportation tech this week. Check out the first episode in the new series by subscribing to Supply Chain in the Fast Lane wherever you get your podcasts.
And a reminder that Logistics Matters is sponsored by PERC, the Propane Education Research Council. Propane is the safe, reliable energy for material handling. Propane-powered forklifts can improve air quality inside your facilities for a healthier, more productive workforce. See how propane can give your productivity a boost at propane.com/forklifts.
We'll be back again next week with another edition of Logistics Matters. Be sure to join us. Until then, have a great week.