Playing it safe in a high-turnover environment

0 10

Eleven years ago, the Industrial Truck Association (ITA) held its first National Forklift Safety Day. Its mission: to impress upon equipment users, regulators, and policymakers the importance of forklift safety and training. But, as ITA and its members are quick to point out, safety should be a top priority every day, not just during that high-profile annual event.

For those who need an extra nudge to maintain the highest safety standards at all times, here’s another incentive: In 2023, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched a National Emphasis Program targeting warehouses and DCs with high rates of injuries, illness, and “Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred” (DART) reports. OSHA initiated the program in response to rising injury and illness rates that are now twice the average of those in most other industries, according to Celeste Hardy, occupational safety and health education specialist for the North Carolina Department of Labor. That increase is tied to a doubling in the number of warehouse employees in the last decade, due to the expansion of e-commerce warehouses and fulfillment centers, Hardy said in a webcast hosted by Yale Lift Truck Technologies

Hardy said she would not be surprised if high rates of employee turnover are contributing to the rise in injuries and reportable incidents. While there are no statistics available to confirm that, experts we consulted for this article say it reflects what they’re seeing in the field. They also expect that, despite a decline in the astronomical turnover rate among forklift operators seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, churn will remain a problem for the foreseeable future. 

Experts we spoke with cited annual turnover rates among their customers of 35%, 45%, or more—in one case, 100% in a three-month period. Turnover, they say, can make it harder to ensure that everyone working in a facility is fully trained, competent, and safe. Here’s a look at how turnover affects forklift safety, and what you can do to help keep safety compliance high and incident rates low. 


OSHA requires that operators undergo a three-part training protocol of classroom lectures (which may also include videos and online learning), followed by hands-on instruction, and then a demonstration of competence out on the floor. Refresher training is required at least every three years. Operators must also be trained for the specific equipment, facility, and applications they will work with. Additional training is mandated when an operator is involved in an accident or near-miss or shows a lack of competency as well as when their job function changes, or they will use different equipment. Using an attachment, switching motive power sources, even a change in racking design require additional training, says Mike Hance, technology center manager for Equipment Depot, which represents JungheinrichUniCarriers Forklifts, and other brands in 25 states.

Unique-to-the-facility training usually is handled internally, but fleets of various sizes have traditionally relied on forklift dealers to conduct standardized training and certify operators. In facilities where operators frequently come and go, however, having a certified in-house trainer can be efficient and cost-effective—one reason, dealers say, they’re seeing a big increase in demand for “train the trainer” instruction. 

That approach comes with some caveats, though. Managers must decide whether they can afford to take their best, most experienced operator off the floor to become a trainer, says Tony Parsons, regional training manager at Wolter Inc., which represents LindeDoosan Bobcat, and other brands across the Midwest. These days, fleets may not even have operators with sufficient experience or knowledge to qualify as trainers, he adds.

Another concern is that in-house trainers may end up spending so much time teaching successive groups of new hires that they lack the bandwidth to conduct more advanced training, says Kenneth Kluge, product training and development specialist for Kion North America, which provides Linde and Baoli lift trucks. Frequent turnover, he adds, may also mean “you’re not getting the experienced person you need to oversee operators and be a mentor, coach, or team leader.”

When turnover is high, Parsons says, the risk level rises for everyone. Without stable, experienced teams of operators, he cautions, “what you have is a bunch of independent workers who can’t predict how colleagues will go about doing their jobs or read each other’s body language.” New operators, moreover, likely won’t feel comfortable reporting unsafe practices or asking for help when they don’t know their co-workers or their managers well. 


When it comes to operator training, the safest course is to start from ground zero, whether the trainees are new to the business or veteran drivers. “Experienced” operators, though, may actually have comparatively little experience, and those who have worked for multiple employers may bring with them behaviors and practices that aren’t safe or appropriate for your facility. 

Jason Moore, manager, operator training and development at Hyster Co., suggests three ways to help new hires meet your standards. First, don’t assume those coming from other employers will know what you want them to do and how to do it. Operators’ certifications are only good for a specific facility and the equipment used there. Second, don’t underestimate how much training will be needed. Operating a three-wheel standup truck is a very different experience than a four-wheel, sit-down counterbalanced truck, even if they’re made by the same manufacturer, he points out. And third, keep in mind that training for new hires should encompass more than just the equipment. They have to learn a facility’s layout, workflow, and pedestrian safety protocols on day one. They also need to become thoroughly familiar with the specific area where they will be working and how to operate safely and efficiently there.

Regardless of the length of their tenure, every operator must be trained to the same standard, so they will not only know what is expected but will also behave as expected, says David Norton, vice president of customer solutions and support at The Raymond Corp. Every requirement, no matter how detailed, should be standardized and included in training. Then, follow up consistently. “Without supervision—without leadership, guidance, and coaching—all the standards will go out the window,” he says. 

Hance recommends that supervisors complete a train-the-trainer program, so they’ll be qualified to evaluate operators’ performance. One or more of those supervisors should be out on the floor during every shift, observing operators as they work and correcting errors as soon as they’re made. His colleague, Director of Environmental Health and Safety Michael Hassell, adds that on-the-spot feedback will be most effective when it’s clear to operators that supervisors are not there simply to find fault; rather, they want to help operators do their jobs in the safest, most efficient way. 


Technology can be an effective tool for enhancing safety training and ensuring compliance among new hires. The following are just three examples of technologies that help forklift fleets achieve those objectives: 

  • Simulators, available from several forklift OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) as well as independent developers, provide operators with a standardized experience and training on different models of forklift trucks. Raymond, for instance, offers virtual reality (VR) simulation as a supplement to its “Safety on the Move” training program. The optional technology is used in the intermediate segment of the training, Norton says. Trainees learn on a “buck,” or stationary truck of the same type they will be operating, working through lessons from the basics, such as completing their daily checklist, to driving, handling pallets in racks, and interacting with other trucks and pedestrians. As they build on previous lessons’ skills and advance to the next level, operators also get in-person feedback from a trainer, who can use the VR to understand the trainee’s skill level and suitability for particular types of equipment, he explains.

Kion NA’s Kluge, who has years of experience as a developer of training technology for military pilots, agrees that simulators and other e-learning options are beneficial for training forklift operators. For example, they can be an effective way to get familiar with a lift truck; trainers can then introduce additional levels of difficulty as learners progress in their hands-on and practical training. However, he emphasizes, they are not intended to substitute for the real deal: “Nothing replaces actually sitting in a truck with someone standing next to you, showing you what to do and coaching you as you do it.” 

  • Detection technology alerts forklift operators and pedestrians to each other’s proximity and notifies operators when objects are in their travel path. One example is the Yale Reliant operator-assist system, which includes three elements that work together to avoid collisions. Object Detection uses light-detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology to detect objects and obstructions in the line of sight when a truck is traveling in the reverse, forks-trailing position. Proximity Detection utilizes ultrawide-band radio communications to detect nearby lift trucks and pedestrians with transmitter tags. Both systems react more quickly than a camera could, slowing the forklift so operators have time to react, according to Joe Koch, sales manager, emerging technology at Yale Lift Truck Technologies. The third element, Real-Time Location Sensing, communicates location-specific information, such as speed and zone restrictions, and automatically adjusts the truck’s performance to ensure compliance. Yale’s sister company, Hyster, offers similar technology through its Hyster Reaction product.

Another example is the Linde Guardian system, which alerts operators and tagged pedestrians to each other’s presence as well as to the proximity of potential hazard zones. It uses LED lights and audible alarms on the forklift and sets off light, sound, and vibration signals on pedestrian units. The technology can “see” around corners and through walls and storage racks (depending on thickness and material) and, when needed, automatically slows Linde trucks equipped with the system. Similarly, Raymond’s FieldSense option within its iWarehouse telematics system provides visible and audible alerts to pedestrians and forklifts when they come within a predefined distance from each other. An optional module alerts operators to the proximity of infrastructure such as racks. The system uses magnetic-field generation technology to create a 360-degree field around a truck that can pass through most obstructions and “see” around corners. 

  • Telematics systems, offered by many forklift manufacturers, are very complex. They vary in capabilities, design, and underlying technology, but typically these wireless communication systems continuously gather real-time data to analyze operator and truck performance and send back instructions to the forklift. They reinforce training by correcting operators’ errors and enhance safety by imposing limitations on a truck’s performance when needed. Here are just a few examples of their capabilities: 
  • Controlling operators’ access to equipment. Operators can be required to log in with a unique ID that not only identifies who they are but also specifies which forklift types and models they are certified to operate. A truck they’re not authorized to operate will not start. 
  • Adjusting forklift performance. Depending on the provider, telematics systems can control travel speed (including enforcing a controlled stop), acceleration, and lift/lower height and speed. These controls may be used to enforce restrictions in specified zones or to reinforce training while operators build their skills and gain experience. 
  • Maintaining stability. Some systems can reduce the risk of tipovers by monitoring load status and the forklift’s forward and lateral motion, then adjusting the truck’s movements and mast tilt angle. Some also prevent lifting or lowering of loads that exceed allowable weights.
  • Assessing skill levels and compliance. By tracking lift trucks’ performance and forklift operators’ activities, telematics systems can supplement trainers’ own observations of operators’ skill progression; performance constraints can then be adjusted accordingly. At the same time, telematics systems reveal unsafe behaviors, allowing trainers to target individual operators for coaching or retraining. 

Yale’s Koch notes that operators who have worked in multiple facilities may struggle to absorb and remember policies, practices, and equipment that differ from employer to employer. In high-turnover environments, telematics is an efficient way to communicate requirements, reinforce training, and ensure compliance every time operators get on a truck, regardless of their work history. 


By some estimates, warehouse space is expected to grow by about 5 billion square feet by 2032, Koch says; an additional 80 to 100 operators will be needed for each additional 1 million square feet of space. If demand for operators rises while high rates of personnel turnover continue, forklift fleets could be challenged to keep up with training and safety compliance in the future. Technology, whether active or passive, can assist here, he says.

Conditions today are daunting enough, of course. But high turnover should not tempt you to compromise when it comes to operator training and compliance with OSHA regulations, Kluge and the other experts we spoke with warn. “Don’t let yourself fall into ‘just check the box’ mode,” he says. “You cannot relax or let the bar for safety standards get lower.” 

Source link

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.