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National Forklift Safety Day raises awareness
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Loren Sweatt
Loren Sweatt

National Forklift Safety Day was held on June 12, 2018. Speakers at this year’s event, held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, D.C., emphasized that forklift safety can’t be just an occasional priority, but rather requires a persistent frame of mind.

“Safety isn’t a day, but a lifetime,” said speaker Loren Sweatt, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Added speaker Dr. Wes Scott, president and chief executive officer of Global EHSS Leadership Solution:  “Safety has to be in the heart and mind of everyone, everywhere, every day. Give positive reinforcement and recognition.”

Scott Johnson, current chairman of the Industrial Truck Association (ITA) and vice president of sales and marketing, CLARK Material Handling, puts it simply: “You have to be all in, all the time.”

Industry and OSHA engagement crucial
Forklift safety has a variety of stakeholders. One of the most important components of National Forklift Safety Day is the engagement and commitment of forklift dealers and distributors. These are the local businesses that are closest to the owners of forklifts, who employ the operators. Dealers from around the country held their own individual events on National Forklift Safety Day, expanding a  consistent message that operator training is critical.  Here are just a few of the events held in conjunction with National Forklift Safety Day by dealers and distributors:

  • One material handling company offered 10 percent off operator safety training classes, price reductions on safety-related products, and a free safety checklist.
  • Another offered a free half-day forklift awareness class focusing on tips regarding forklift safety and pedestrian interaction. It also offered discounted operator training classes.
  • Yet another company asked all 1,000 associates to sign a safety pledge. It also offered a forklift safety promotion calling on service technicians to place a special focus on inspecting forks, alerting customers to the dangers of misaligned forks and encouraging customers to replace them.

ITA’s members – the OEMs who manufacture the equipment – were equally busy with open houses, communications outreach, and special events. And end users joined in with their own creative ideas, like the company whose celebration with its warehouse team combined forklift safety information with giveaways and prizes.  

OSHA is pushing in the same direction. While the federal forklift operator training regulation is excellent, there are still too many citations for failure to train.  OSHA has recognized the need for more compliance officers and inspectors and, according to Loren Sweatt, the agency has recently been authorized to hire up to 80 more.

Positive safety culture
Forklift orders continue their upswing. There were 253,000 orders in 2017 in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, compared with 231,000 in 2016 and 226,000 in 2015.  With hundreds of thousands of operators across U.S. industries, and the numbers growing rapidly, there’s no question that a lot of people will benefit from effective training.  That’s what’s behind the philosophy expressed by Jim Mozer, ITA National Forklift Safety Day chairman and senior vice president of Crown Equipment Corporation. “Operator safety must be at the forefront,” Mozer said. “At Crown, we say everyone deserves to come home safe every day.”

Dr. Scott, who was with the National Safety Council before starting his consulting firm, had a lot to say about safety culture. As he explained it, safety culture in an organization is the way safety is perceived, valued, prioritized and integrated into activities. It’s not something you can get or buy; rather, it’s something an organization possesses or lacks. In essence, it is what people believe about the importance of safety, including whether their peers and leaders prioritize safety.

So what are the characteristics of a positive safety culture? Consider:

  • Safety is a value, not a goal or a program.
  • Safety is held as a value by all employees.
  • Safety is personal – each individual feels responsible for the safety of their coworkers as well as themselves.
  • Each individual is willing to take action to ensure the safety of others, even when uncomfortable or unpopular.

Jane Terry, senior director of government affairs for the National Safety Council, focused on a major cultural problem that has clear workplace safety implications: the opioid epidemic in the U.S.  Among other startling statistics about the scope of the opioid problem, Terry noted that more than 70 percent of employers have been affected by prescription drugs in the workplace, with 28 percent saying they are unprepared to deal with prescription drug misuse. In fact, 76 percent of employers don’t train employees to identify signs of misuse. That includes employers of forklift operators. This trajectory needs to change. According to Terry, “Each employee who recovers from a substance use disorder saves a company more than $3,200 per year.” The real beneficiary, of course, is the recovered employee who gets a productive life back, returning as a valued member of a safer workforce.     

OSHA-ITA alliance
Furthering its mission to raise awareness and improve forklift safety beyond National Forklift Safety Day, ITA is in the 14th year of its National Alliance with OSHA and the 12th year of providing forklift safety seminars for OSHA compliance officer and consultation personnel around the country. ITA has conducted its seminar, entitled “FORKLIFT SAFETY: OPERATOR, MACHINE & ENVIRONMENT,” for more than 600 OSHA personnel, reaching all of the agency’s 12 regions at least once.

ITA conducts between three and six sessions each year, using volunteer member-company engineers and safety personnel as presenters. The full-day session typically includes about 20 OSHA attendees and features demonstrations of several forklifts as well as extensive classroom materials.  OSHA attendees learn about forklift safety issues that they can use in their inspections and consultations and they provide valuable feedback to ITA about the problems they see in the field, enabling ITA to continuously update the program. Given the ample enthusiasm for this activity at OSHA, ITA looks forward to many more sessions.

What’s next for National Forklift Safety Day?
In the coming years, ITA will build on its core approach, increase stakeholder involvement, and form new partnerships to support the safety message.  The heart of that message will continue to be that safety needs to be part of an organization’s culture and that forklift operator training pays off for all concerned.

The next National Forklift Safety Day will be held June 11, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
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