Oct18

Overcoming Forklift Operator Complacency

Overcoming Forklift Operator Complacency

Given the increasing importance placed on speed, efficiency and productivity in today’s warehousing and logistics industry, the attention and effort needed to maintain a safe work environment can sometimes get overlooked. When the goal is to get as much done in the shortest amount of time, it’s easy to forget that establishing and maintaining a safe work environment requires an all-around approach to safety from both operators and management alike. Simply “being careful” and “driving safely” isn’t enough; preparations need to be in place for both the commonplace and the unexpected while fighting against the threat of complacency. What’s more, these steps need to be combined with other necessary functions that serve a secondary safety purpose such as equipment maintenance.

One of the best places to encourage a comprehensive approach to workplace safety is by establishing an extensive training program for operators, employees and management personnel alike. The goal here is to develop a thorough training program to educate everyone on workplace safety hazards and train them according to safe and efficient practices. In the process, you’ll provide your employees with the knowledge and tools they’ll need to realize your safety vision but also communicate the importance your organization places on workplace safety. In the process, you’ll establish a great foundation for your organizational safety goals.

It should be noted, however, that training alone won’t be enough to achieve your safety goals. Certain parts of the human condition conspire against even the most comprehensive training programs. This is because with enough time, even our best laid plans and intentions fall victim to the perils of complacency. Regardless of the task and its associated hazards or risks, frequency and repetition ultimately lead to a confident, accustomed work force.

The Danger of Complacency

Once complacency sets in, what was once viewed as an unacceptable or lethal hazard becomes just another part of their daily routine. Think about your drive to work today – did you see every other car on the road as a potentially lethal threat? Likely not but every other vehicle on the road has that potential. In fact, car accidents are one of the leading causes of death in Canada every year, many of which would have been preventable if everyone treated cars and the road with the care and respect it deserves. So, as you can see, once complacency sets in serious safety issues generally follow.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, complacency is sense of self-satisfaction accompanied by unawareness of actual danger or deficiencies. Complacency has two main consequences as it relates to workplace safety: 1) it desensitizes us to the ever-present hazards and risks that exist even under the best circumstances (i.e., without complacency); and, 2) the characteristic self-satisfaction and ignorance encourages risky behaviour that jeopardizes the safety of others.

Unfortunately, complacency is present in one form or another in most workplaces and often results in devastating, yet avoidable, consequences. With this in mind, let’s look at a daily task for every forklift operator – the pre-operation inspection. As the name suggests, this practice consists of a thorough 360 degree visual inspection of a forklift conducted before an operator begins their shift activities to assess the operating condition of a forklift and identify potential hazards. The goal of pre-shift inspections is to spot safety or maintenance issues before operating the forklift so it can be removed from service. Unfortunately, these inspections are often incomplete, superficial or neglected altogether as operators blindly trust the service staff to ensure the forklift is free of any serious issues. In this scenario, working practices and a whole lot of assumptions combine to create the perfect conditions for an incident.

How to Fight Complacency

Develop a workplace culture where safety violations aren’t ignored but openly challenged - Take a moment to consider your own workplace. When was the last time you saw a forklift take a corner with a raised load or come to an abrupt stop? Watched preoccupied pedestrians walk through your facility? Unless your workplace breaks from the norm, chances are these behaviours are commonplace. One of the key factors that separates workplaces with an exceptional safety record from everyone else is how their employees respond when unsafe behaviours are observed. Using the examples above, a forklift operator driving with a raised load or preoccupied pedestrians will be challenged and their unsafe behaviour will be corrected. Unfortunately, the problem with many workplaces is that until these dangerous behaviours result in an accident, they often go unnoticed.

Develop a comprehensive training program that goes beyond the bare minimum - There are a few minimum requirements that must be met before someone can legally operate a forklift in Ontario. The first step is to complete a forklift operator safety and awareness training course. Taken once every three years, the course covers information about hazard identification and safe operating practices and concludes with a knowledge verification test. Next, an operator must complete the practical component of the certification process. Here, the operator must demonstrate their capability to perform their expected tasks "'in a manner consistent with competence standards" on the equipment they’ll use a day-to-day basis to someone qualified to make such an assessment.

Unfortunately, many workplaces go no further with their forklift operator training than the legal minimums established by the Ministry of Labour and the Ontario Health and Safety Act. This organizational complacency ensures that the bad habits and knowledge gaps of an operator will go unnoticed and uncorrected until they cause an accident. To avoid these issues, we recommend that you establish a comprehensive training program that includes both theoretical and practical refresher courses for all of your operators. This provides your trainers with a chance to identify and correct unsafe behaviours that may not surface during a short recertification assessment. Also, we recommend that you have your supervisors trained and certified even if they will not operate a forklift. Without this basic knowledge and training, they will not have enough knowledge to spot unsafe behaviours and place an operator in corrective training if and where necessary.

Utilize 3rd party or external service providers for your forklift operator training and assessments - While some companies prefer to use their in-house training program, there are a number of benefits to using a 3rd party service provider. From a safety standpoint, a 3rd party service provider is less likely to cut corners or pass someone to avoid any future awkwardness with a co-worker. We’ve found issues when the same manager is responsible for both the operators and the trainers, increasing the temptation to take short cuts to save time and money, which often results in poorly trained operators. This will not happen with an accredited 3rd party training provider, who must comply with the standards of their professional bodies and government regulations and take great lengths to stay up-to-date on best practices and industry standards. Finally, the costs of outsourcing your training needs to a company like Lucas Liftruck Services Ltd. is generally less expensive than in-house options when all the costs are considered including personnel, management and administration.

In Closing

In the fast-paced environment of a modern warehouse, it’s easy to lose focus on best practices and safety. This is particularly true when wide-spread complacency is allowed to set in. To prevent this from causing an accident or serious injury at your workplace, take steps to fight complacency. We recommend that you start with a comprehensive training program using Lucas Liftruck’s corporate forklift operator training program. We’ll come to your location and train your operators when it works within your schedule. Contact us to book your corporate group or visit our training page for more information today!

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