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As the director of training for forklift operations at Ives Training Group, in Chicago, he has literally seen thousands of forklift drivers pass through his program through the years. If there’s one thing they all have in common, it’s the desire to get the job done as quickly as possible so they can move on to the next thing.
Unfortunately, forklift safety sometimes takes a back seat to efficiency. And that’s something Vetter has devoted his life to changing.
“They are smart enough to show me what I want to see,” Vetter said in a recent interview with Modern Materials Handling. “But after I leave, the supervisor might not know what’s going on or recognize the difference between optimal practices and shortcomings. From the top of a company down, they need to be diligent about enforcing and maintaining safety, every hour of every day.”
Forklift Safety Is His Life’s Calling
Vetter knows first-hand the importance of following forklift safety protocols at all times. When he was younger, a close friend of his was killed in an industrial accident. Ever since then, being an evangelist for the safe operation of these heavy-duty machines has been his life’s calling.
The issue he keeps running into, however, is that until an accident occurs, most people don’t treat forklift safety with the respect it deserves. Management tends to view it as a purely regulatory issue and provides training in order to cover their exposure in the event something bad should happen.
And workers? Well, workers will be workers.
“Operators don’t care about compliance and costs,” Vetter said. “And, even if a safety committee does, if consistent support doesn’t come from the top down in an organization, an ideal safety culture will not happen.”
Pay Less Now But More Later
Doing the least amount possible to ensure a bare minimum of forklift safety training and enforcement is being performed costs more in the long run. Just the cost of maintaining equipment that is not being used safely can be costly. Vetter recalled one company that spent $12,000 per year maintaining its 12 forklifts.
“That seemed like a lot, but the accountant said it was within normal bound based on a comparison to previous years,” Vetter said. “The maintenance invoices included bent hydraulic rods and cracked wheel rims, and I thought, ‘This is not maintenance, this is repair! This equipment is being abused!'”
The biggest risk in forklift operations is speed, according to Vetter. When a forklift is moving at a high rate of speed — especially if it is carrying a heavy load — the operator’s ability to maneuver it accurately and safely is substantially reduced. It takes longer to stop. Turns can’t be executed as easily. And, in many case, the payload may even be blocking the driver’s view of where he is going.
“It astounds me how many people will pick up a load that blocks their vision and then drive forward,” Vetter said. “You would never do it in your car. So why do it in a fork truck? I can’t understand why they think they have the right of way. It’s not difficult to drive in reverse or get a spotter.”