Challenging trucks

Danny Maron -
Safety First
- 20 Oct 2022 ( #1099 )
3 min read
Danny Maron, owner/trainer of Ideal Forklift Training in Canada’s national capital, is an independent consultant, providing the education lift truck operators require, to businesses and government, to minimise the chance of incidents in the workplace. Before founding Ideal in 2000, Danny was a trainer at Canada’s largest forklift dealer.

After all the forklift safety training sessions I have held over the past 22+ years, I have come to the conclusion that the narrow-aisle reach or stand-up counterbalance trucks have the steepest learning curve of all powered industrial trucks. Some of the longest days are days where I am called upon to train five staff on either of these two forklifts, and no-one has any experience operating any forklifts of any class or style.

Theory is not the problem as they all turn in excellent results; however, after demonstrating the task required, they all seem to turn their backs when asked who is going to go first. All staff of all genders and of all ages seem to avoid being the first, so that is where I have decided to start from scratch.

After a brief orientation, I focus on the driving. The first task is to have each of the staff drive the reach truck down an aisle in the forward direction as I walk slightly off to the side and behind them. They all operate the truck like drunken soldiers, weaving to the left and right as the proceed down the aisle. But first, they push the multi-function controller too forcibly and accelerate very quickly, get a jolt, get scared and stop. I tell them to find that magic sweet spot at a pace they are comfortable driving and if they want to go faster, or slower, adjust accordingly. 

CAT NOH12PH high level order picker
CAT NOH12PH high level order picker

Each takes their turn with similar results and everyone is laughing at each other’s performances. So far, a good time to be had by all. But next, comes the hydraulics. The subsequent step is for them to drive down the aisle until the end, turn left, turn left again and proceed up the next aisle until the end, and then do the same in reverse. Now the trainees have become accustomed to the speed and steering and all is well. They have all mastered the braking; now we get on with the plugging. Seems that plugging always wins.

Next, we demonstrate the lift/lower, tilt front/back or up/down, extend out/retract, and the sideshifter if equipped. Then, they each hop on board and, under my direction, they perform all the hydraulic functions in the aisle without any movement.

Next, we start with either the lowest bin or a pallet on the floor, and they must grab the pallet without hitting the pallet or the rack with the outriggers as they painfully watch the forks pass through the pallet spaces. This is what we call multi-tasking in the forklift training business. Now, they must operate the forklift as done previously. For some reason, using the tiller and the multi-function control lever simultaneously creates much trauma for the staff as their multi-tasking skills have been shot out the window. Working the tiller and lever at the same time appears to be a difficult task for these new students and that creates a nightmare for them. However, while operating up/down the aisles, instead of directing the controller to the 12, 3, 6, 9 positions, they tend to direct the controller at the 10.30 position, causing the truck to move while the forks are rising in the air. And then, they have to place the pallet back from where it was taken, and obviously, they cannot align the truck with the open space; usually, because they cut too early.

We then repeat the same process but grabbing the pallet from the next bin up and so on, until we arrive at the top bin where they must perform the task on their own - all this, multiplied five times. All the while, I walk alongside, coaching and supervising. What a day, what a day!

Ninety percent of the staff do not receive full competency, although very few fail. This class of truck is foreign to them as they have never operated anything remotely similar. At first, they can only perform the most basic of tasks. For anything more difficult that they feel uneasy with, a second competent person must be present to coach and supervise until such time as the operator feels comfortable enough to perform such tasks on their own.

And for me, I cannot wait to get back home.

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