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Forklift Safety: Believe It or Not?
Forklifts, although heavy pieces of industrial equipment, have been long treated as machines that can be operated by anyone who can walk, but it is just not so.

By David Hoover
Date Posted: 6/1/2006

   Recently I heard an amazing story. A small, private air transport company was found to be training their pilots in some very unconventional ways. This particular airline was in a competition with many others to stay afloat, and every dollar was counted carefully. It also was under tremendous pressure to satisfy hectic schedules. The director of training for the company had been around for many years; under constant pressure by his managers and the company directors, he finally gave in and compromised on his long-held commitment to safety and training of new pilots.

   The traditional way of training pilots had always been very formal, time consuming and costly. The training involved many months of classroom and hands-on sessions to produce pilots who were capable and qualified to fly in their demanding application.

   The new training program consisted mainly of watching a ‘how to fly’ video, observing other pilots fly, a five minute orientation to the flight controls, and then a brief practice take-off and landing. As long as each trainee completed this sequence, they were given their wings and a permanent spot as a staff pilot — at well below industry wages, for obvious reasons.

   The airline started to show some impressive profits since it turned out pilots faster and cheaper than ever, and competitors took notice. Unbelievably, this practice went undiscovered for a long period of time. Finally, an accident occurred; a new pilot crashed an aircraft, and he was killed along with several other people. The company’s unorthodox training program came into the light of day.

   Take a minute and think about the above story. Now substitute an industrial plant for the air transport company, and a forklift and operator for the plane and pilot.

   No, the preceding story about the air transport company is not true, and we would be appalled if it was. But I use it as an illustration to make this point: it is scary what many companies do with regard to training forklift operators. I have seen too many companies treat the training of forklift operators in this manner – or worse, providing no training at all.

   Forklifts, although heavy pieces of industrial equipment, have been long treated as machines that can be operated by anyone who can walk, but it is just not so.

   Just as obtaining a pilot’s license requires earning qualifications, learning to run a forklift takes time, dedication and effort. And there is no getting around it without paying a high price in the end.

            (David Hoover is president of Forklift Training Systems.  For more information on this or other topics related to forklift training, safety or products, contact David at (740) 763-4978, e-mail dhoover@forklifttrainingsystem.com, or visit the Web site at www.forklifttrainingsystem.com. Dave welcomes questions.)

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