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Don’t spare the rod!

Friday, September 23, 2016

A famous verse from the bible says “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Proverbs 13:24. You might ask, “What in the world does that have to do with forklift safety” and my response would be “everything.” There are many factors in safe operation and each plays a vital part.

When I first started to train, I thought 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 expected might have gone like this. “Hey John, I noticed you are not wearing your seatbelt, 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 have working with people and families torn apart by forklift accidents.

These may sound callous, but here are some facts for dealing with 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, or half-heartedly do so with their kids, we know what can happen. They can end up on drugs, in trouble with the law and 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 seatbelt. 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 or to your family. 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 seatbelt use. They had experienced a fatal accident at a sister plant during a forklift tip over and made seatbelt 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 seatbelt 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 half-heartedness, then they will test you to the end of your patience. Set the rules and then enforce them with a vengeance. You are protecting workers and their families by doing so.

Written by Brian Colburn of Forklift Training Systems, a leading provider of forklift safety training and materials. Forklift Training Systems can be contacted at 614-583-5749 or at Visit them on the web at