Forklift Operator Discipline
Forklift Center June 29, 2016 No Comments

When I first started to train, I thought that if a company saw one of their forklift operators violating forklift safety policies, they should stop them and discuss why they should work safely.  The conversation I was envisioning might have gone something like this:  “Hey John, I noticed you are not wearing your seat-belt. We would really like to see you wear it to protect yourself and your family, it is very important, have a good day.”  While there is nothing wrong with that approach, the years have hardened me a bit, as has working with people and families that have been torn apart by tragic forklift accidents.

These may sound callous, but here are some facts to keep in mind while dealing with issues of forklift safety:

  • We are dealing with adults, not children. When you tell a child something, they may not understand the consequences of non-compliance, or they may just choose not to follow them.  Adults do understand what they are told, and if training is done correctly they will fully understand the potential consequences of non-compliance.  Lastly, not following the rules is NOT AN OPTION for employees.  If they expect to collect their paycheck, they should expect to “toe the line” from a safety standpoint.  If they don’t want to follow the rules, then they should start their own company with their own rules or find a company that has no rules.
  • There is no need to “dance around” the issue of confronting people for violating safety policies. As supervisors and trainers that IS OUR JOB.  Like it or not, confronting safety violations and fixing problems is part of the job, maybe not a pleasant part, but one of the most important parts.  When parents don’t address problems with their kids, we know what can happen.  They can end up on drugs, in trouble with the law, or with no respect for authority.  When companies do the same we know what happens; non-compliance, accidents, injuries, unsafe situations, and no accountability.
  • Although we should not be disrespectful or rude when dealing with anyone, we need to cut to the chase and be sure people are getting our message. At the beginning of this article, I talked about how I used to think a conversation should go, now let me define how I would do it today on a first offense.  “Hey John, I see you are not wearing your seat-belt.  You know we covered this in training and that it is a rule at our company to wear it.  I need to have you put it on now and we expect you to wear it each and every time you are operating the forklift.  It is the number one killer of operators and we don’t want something to happen to you. I will write you up a warning this time and put it in your file, but if it happens again it will involve time off from work.  Are we clear on what needs to happen from here on out?”

One company we work with repeatedly and nicely warned operators for a set period of time on seat-belt use.  They had experienced a fatal accident at a “sister plant” during a forklift tip over and made seat-belt use and a few other items “cardinal safety rules”, which result in immediate termination of employment for offenders.  A few days after the warning period ended, a 20 year veteran was caught testing the policy and was let go.  This company runs 24/7 operations with large numbers of forklifts and I have not seen seat-belt non-compliance again in many years. No matter how hard the lesson was, the message got across and their facility was much safer as a result.

In summary, put some “teeth and muscle” behind your enforcement of forklift safety issues.  When people understand the company is dead serious about something, they usually comply fairly quickly.  If they perceive any hesitation or relaxed enforcement, they will test you to the end of your patience.  Set the rules and then enforce them with a vengeance, knowing that you are protecting workers and their families by doing so.

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