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Using positive reinforcement to promote safe forklift operations

As a father, I am constantly looking for ways to motivate my kids. I have found a great motivational tool, which is positive reinforcement. The old saying -you catch more flies with honey than vinegar- seems to be true. I get them working towards a positive reward such as a later bedtime or more playtime. I also use negative reinforcement, such as losing playtime or going to bed early, but I use it as a last resort. Normally, the positive works much better and lasts longer. You might ask what this has to do with reinforcing safe forklift operations; let me explain.

If you were called into your manager’s office tomorrow for a review and told -You’re doing ok, I think we’ll keep you around another year- how would you feel? If you had been working hard and doing your best then you might feel disappointed, unappreciated and maybe even angry, right? That is exactly how many highly skilled forklift operators feel today. I come across people like this all the time, they are smart, extremely skilled and make their companies run like a well-oiled machine, but nobody seems to notice. Year in and year out they quickly and efficiently stack and store materials safely and efficiently, which makes their company profitable, but who cares? No wonder morale is so low in many companies and industries today.

Here are some ideas to motivate your forklift operators:

1. Come up with a safe operation award (like the million mile awards some companies give semi-truck drivers.) Make it tough to achieve, but not impossible, so that only the best of the best achieve it (and not the guy who hits the building column every day.) Put up some cash or a nice prize and recognize them in the company newsletter or at a company function. Recognition is a very powerful positive reinforcement, maybe even more so than money.
2. Organize a forklift rodeo (or I prefer the words – forklift skills challenge) event. This might be just your company or you might include everyone in your industrial park, etc. Set up real life courses, such as trailer loading, stacking, maneuvering, etc. and grade them on safe operation and efficiency, with the emphasis on safety. Hand out trophies and recognize the winners, get them in the local paper or have the local TV station cover the event. Everyone in the world likes to have a chance to show their skills and this gives the forklift operators a chance to do just that.
3. Get their input on how to improve safety and reduce expenses related to material handling in your location. Put up decent cash rewards and incentives for great ideas. If the company is going to save $10,000 next year as a result, I think they can cough up $100 for the idea! This will make the operators feel more like they are a part of your team and also save your company money.

Written by Brian Colburn of Forklift Training Systems, a leading provider of forklift safety training and materials. Look for Forklift Training Systems at Email with questions.

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