Rob Vetter is technical director and managing partner with the Ives Training Group, in Blaine, WA, USA, a leader in North American mobile equipment training systems since 1981.
Recently, I had the good fortune to be asked to judge the competitors at the Blue Mountain Forklift Roundup in Pendleton, Oregon. The event was the first of what is scheduled to be an annual event, joining other forklift competitions in the region, such as the Washington State Forklift Rodeo (two regionals and a state championship), the Oregon Columbia Forklift Challenge (biannual state championship) and the BC Forklift Rally (annual championship event).
The folks behind the Blue Mountain Roundup did themselves proud as it was very well organised and attended. It drew 21 competitors, which is quite remarkable for a local, first-time event. However, what was most remarkable was the excitement and enthusiasm of the competitors. Some were nervous and tentative, while others were brash and confident - but all were completely engaged and eager to compete.
One of the positive things that always strikes me when I attend these competitions is the efficiency and competence a good operator is able to consistently demonstrate. When I hear people squawking about not being able to be safe and productive at the same time, I wish they could see these competitors who are not only able to do things safely while moving at a good clip, but are able to do it seemingly effortlessly. They really do make it look easy: the very picture of grace under pressure. And, speaking as an ex-operator, I can tell you it is most certainly not easy!
Another positive observation I continually make at forklift competitions is the competitive spirit of both individual operators and company team drivers. These guys and gals really want to win! There's a real sense of camaraderie between team members and it's fun to watch them get themselves and their teammates hyped up and even dispense a little good-natured smack talk to their opponents.
Of course, the best thing to see is the sheer pride and happiness of the winners who, although willing to have fun with it, are also very serious about it at the end of the day.
All in all, these forklift driver competitions help foster a culture of safety within an atmosphere of fun, healthy competition. Positive benefits are also realised outside of the actual state/regional competitions as many of the companies in attendance hold their own internal competitions to select their entrants to the state events.
Since I have been involved in the local events in my part of the world stretching back to 1998, these forklift operator competitions have elevated in status from novelty events to legitimate qualifiers of top-level drivers as well as positive influencers on safety at a cultural level. I am proud to be associated with these events but am happy to say I am not as proud as the people who compete in them, and that's the way it should be.
If you and/or your company get the opportunity to participate in a similar event in your area or are thinking of starting your own in-house competition, I highly recommend it as they seem to render nothing but positive results.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't send out props to Mark Ribich, Materials Handling Manager (Ret.) of the Boeing Company (Everett Div.). Mark was the driving force behind the Washington State rodeos since their inception in the late 1990s and was instrumental in organising nearly every aspect of the Blue Mountain Roundup, from sponsorship to course tear-down and everything in between. Well done Mark - you and your team really knocked it out of the park!