Safety First

Danny Maron: Reversal of Fortune

Wednesday, 3 March 2010 ( #451 )
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.
IThe nature of a trainer's business is generally to enter a workplace and provide safety training to the client's staff. We assess the facility, and then spend the appropriate amount of time providing an education regarding the safety aspects and dynamics of the forklift. Then, we test the participants on their knowledge of the materials put forth, followed by a practical session to determine each participant's ability to operate the lift truck in a safe and efficient manner. That is the norm, and doing it repetitively makes for a stronger case why we professionals (at least some of us in the industry) are the experts and the ones to call when training is required. Most companies are mainly interested in two things: the costs involved and the duration of the course. The client's main intent is to comply with the law - with minimal investment. It is unfortunate, but it's a fact. Buto along comes a strong client of mine who requests the exact opposite. This client does invest a considerable amount of time and money nurturing its staff, and in return, turnover is at a minimum. What a refreshing notion from the usual mundane processes that have become the norm in warehouses and plants all over the world. This client was seeking a professional opinion as to whether a number of individuals, currently working in odd jobs, would and can qualify to be upgraded to competent forklift operators, without costing the company too much money on poor choices. The client requested that I evaluate the five staff on their ability to operate the sit-down forklift, all of whom have never done so previously. No classroom training was to take place and this was deemed a practical session, with the hopes and intent of finding a few current staff to fill some forklift operation duties. So, off I went on a chilly Saturday morning and set up a series of pylons. I took them through step-by-step, learning the engine torque, steering, braking and controls. We initially drove forwards and backwards around the pylons to become accustomed to the truck, and then demonstrated. Then they practised, weaving through the pylons in forward and reverse. A few hours later, it was becoming apparent who would be right for the job and who wouldn't. Once they mastered the obstacle course, we spent some time learning the controls and determining the position of the mast. Finally, a couple of practice runs were thrown in, and it was time for testing. Usually, I write down all the infractions as they happen, but this time, there was a union to deal with, and the company required sufficient evidence as to why they would choose one member over another. Out came the video camera, and I filmed each of their runs. When it came to delivering my opinion, I submitted a detailed report covering everything that was expected of them, the goals, the means of tutoring them and an outline of the course test. I included their infractions as well as whatever they did well, and submitted the paperwork and video to the client to be evaluated by management. (Any issues of the union can be quickly quashed by the report and the videos that were submitted.) This was a first for me, and hopefully not the last. I enjoyed evaluating the staff but the job was made difficult by them not being classroom trained at first. They definitely did incur infractions, such as not neutralizing the forklift before operating the controls, pallets not being fully engaged, not sounding the horn and not looking all around before reversing. But that was not the intent of the session that day. The intent was to determine whether one or more of the staff can be taken to the next level, and make them fully fledged forklift operators. And that is what I did! For me, it was a backwards way of doing things. However, I understand why my client proposed it. I did not have to issue any certificates or permits, nor was I on the hook for determining their competency level. That was not part of the contract. For me, it went extremely well. For the client, they were ecstatic with my report and findings. And for the people involved, an intensive push, although short, into the world of forklift operations. Now, the process begins: extensive time on the forklift with the plant supervisor and one of their best operators, using the forklift and clamp truck, running menial tasks around the plant. That process takes approximately a week, then I am brought back in to perform the proper training, classroom style, get them on the forklift for the practical and assess their competency. Then they will undertake 300 hours of supervised forklift operation by the company. How's that for investing in your own staff for possible future promotions and company morale? If you are wondering how many of the five survived and are being groomed for the next level, the answer is two!