Production: When It Comes to Operating Heavy Equipment, Does Your Pressroom Meet the Basic Requirements?

Paper rolls need to be handled with care. Too little pressure while clamping and you could drop a roll causing damage to the roll and potentially bystanders. Too much pressure and you can crush the core leaving the roll severely damaged and possibly unusable.

Many newspapers hire people and throw them on a piece of heavy equipment more powerful than a car (and much more dangerous) with little or no operational or safety training. How does your operation certify operators, conduct training, provide ongoing education and testing? How are accidents investigated? How is equipment maintained and are license/background checks required?

Let’s get started with the hiring process. Bringing anyone new into your organization that may be operating a piece of heavy equipment within your facility should only be hired contingent on a driver’s license background check. The manner in which they drive outside can easily transcend to how they are going to drive your equipment and the danger they could pose to themselves and others. If there is a history of repeat driving infractions, I’ll guarantee that activity isn’t going to suddenly go away when they’re operating your equipment.

We owe it to our employees and our company to not to put them in harm’s way through our poor hiring practices.

Prior to any new operator touching a piece of power assisted moving equipment, proper operational training including a complete explanation of controls should take place. While this might sound like a common sense statement, you’d be surprised just how many employers bypass this process and go straight to on the job training; that is a bad idea.

According to OSHA requirements, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure employees who operate a forklift as part of their job receive training in its operation. OSHA sights five elements/sections for meeting forklift certification requirements: operator training, safe operation/performance requirements, training program implementation, training program content, and refresher training and ongoing evaluation.

First, decide on a qualified trainer, ideally someone who has attended an OSHA compliant certification training course and is recognized as a forklift trainer. If this person doesn’t exist, invest in developing one. Several professional training organizations offer on-site trainer certification at your facility with your equipment. Additionally, you can develop a trainer by sending them to training at the vendor’s facility with on-line support and testing.

Once you’ve developed a qualified trainer, this individual can establish an in-house training program that complies with OSHA standards. They can incorporate purchased videos on forklift safety, charts/diagrams, audio tapes, verbal instruction and demonstrations. Training should be specific to the type of equipment used and to the workplace.

I’d encourage everyone to go onto the OSHA website and follow the requirements listed for forklift training and certification. OSHA hands down heavy fines for willful and/or repeated violations, such as allowing untrained or uncertified employees to operate forklifts within your facility.

I’ve conducted several training courses; as long as they are structured, follow OSHA approved processes for training and follow-up testing is conducted, you should be within established standards.

In my experience, I’ve started with a video purchased from a reputable vendor who supplies videos with updated OSHA standards for compliance. I prefer to sit down with employees while they are viewing the video and interact/advise them on how the training relates to our specific equipment. This is the time for questions, not when someone is on the equipment. I also purchase prepared tests that correspond with the video instruction. All the answers to the written test will be provided in the video, plus I don’t see any harm in prompting folks throughout the training to “pay particular attention to this part.” In the end, you’ll have well-informed and trained employees.

Forklifts are a staple of any mailroom. Stacking skids of preprints or placing them into racks would be impossible without this equipment. Proper training, maintenance and ongoing testing are critical to this operation.

Passing the Tests

Once the video is over, I have new hires go to the written test. The tests I’ve used allow the individual to miss no more than three questions. Any more wrong than that requires reviewing the video and taking the test again until they pass. Failing more than twice means they probably need to look for another career.

Once they pass the written test, I instruct potential operators the specifics of the equipment they are about to test on. I then demo the equipment for them and communicate to ensure they understand safe operation and handling. If I’m satisfied that they understand and are capable of physical testing, I put them on the equipment. After adequate and specific instruction while training, OSHA allows that an individual undergoing training can get behind the controls for learning and testing purposes only.

At this point, I will have them show me the controls, explain to me what each does and ask them several questions regarding the equipment to confirm their understanding. If they make it this far, the physical testing begins. Normally, I’ll have them lift an empty skid, drive to a specific spot and gently/safely set it down. Then, we’ll try the same with a load, place it at a higher level, and further complicate the process until I feel comfortable that they can drive safely and operate that particular equipment as it is designed to operate. Then, and only then, they are given a “license” confirming they have completed training as required by OSHA forklift license requirements. This is the type of individual I want on the lift when I’m passing through an area in which forklifts are being operated.

Employment is contingent on passing all parts of the testing process. Some people just aren’t cut out to operate a forklift and I’ve regretfully failed several individuals in my time.

Similar training is required for re-certification of operators at least once every three years, or after any unsafe operation, introduction of new equipment or changes in workplace conditions, accidents or near misses, or if the skill of any operator comes into question.

Some of the things I’ve observed throughout my career may amaze you. Individuals operating forklifts in congested areas listening to music with full earbuds on, rocking lifts after getting stuck on an uneven surface, pulling out another stuck forklift with a tow rope, driving without a seatbelt—the list goes on. People don’t always use common sense and one misstep with heavy equipment can spell disaster.

Several years ago, at a facility we had an individual with a health condition. His supervisors knew that occasionally his blood sugar would drop dangerously low and affect his judgment if he skipped lunch, but I didn’t find this out until one day he drove the forklift off the end of the dock. By some stroke of luck, no one was injured. Needless to say it was his last ride and the supervisors didn’t end up very pleased either.

Many newspapers who use temp help from an agency may allow uncertified laborers to operate fork-trucks just on their word; this isn’t a smart practice. Another troubling issue I’ve seen are facilities who allow truck drivers who deliver vendor supplies to use their equipment, potentially putting employees in danger and exposing the company to serious financial liability. If I didn’t certify a driver myself, they do not touch the company equipment or operate in our facility, no exceptions.

Another adventure I’ve witnessed is a separation miscue. Operators and truck drivers need to be on the same page when unloading. I’ve seen drivers attempt to re-position their trailer when a forklift is in the process of entering. Normally, this doesn’t end well. This happens more than you’d believe, yet there are several ways to avoid this issue. A good start is with communication. I instruct operators to never proceed with unloading anything until they have seen the driver leave the truck and are able to confirm with them that they are docked, the engine is shut off and the emergency brake is engaged. At that point if your dock is not equipped with a doc-lock or similar trailer retention device, wheel chocks should be put in place behind at least both rear tires. Again, you’d think this would all be simple common sense, but trust me accidents happen and most, if not all, are avoidable.

A quick word about surface conditions: Slick wheels on most forklifts are designed for indoor use and dry conditions. Unloading a truck outside around rain or snow can be very dangerous even for the most experienced operator. The wood on the inside of a trailer is like an ice rink when it gets wet. Stay aware of the surface conditions and adjust accordingly.

Rain and snow can create dangerous conditions for clamp or forklift operation. Slick tires, usually the type on “indoor” forklifts, can slide and present hazards for the operator if not adequately trained for the conditions.

Equipment Safety

Although there can never be enough focus on safety nor enough time or space to cover it all in this article, let’s switch gears and move on to the types of equipment typically used in newspapers and their applications.

Forklifts seem to exist in just about every newspaper mailroom in the world. We’d be lost without them. Unloading skids of preprints, placing them in racks, stacking them on top of one another, positioning near inserting equipment, loading our own trucks for deliveries; the list goes on. Forklifts have earned their place as a key piece of equipment in all our mailrooms.

Standing pallet jacks are, in my opinion, more difficult to operate than a forklift for some. It’s just not natural for some people to operate equipment unless they’re seated. Although this equipment is found less frequently in newspapers, they are useful for positioning preprints in racks and virtually are every bit as useful as a seated forklift.

Ground level electric pallet jacks (i.e. pallet movers that cannot be used to stack pallets) are another staple of newspaper operations. These pallet jacks are a fraction of the cost of forklifts and except for raising skids to stack or place in racks are every bit as useful on the ground.

To refer back to the safety aspect for a brief moment, remember each different piece of equipment requires specific training and testing. At several of the newspapers I’ve been at, I’ve seen folks who can’t get the hang of handling an electric pallet mover and end up pinned against the wall with the unit still running. This can damage property, and if you’re on the receiving end of a handle to the gut, it can really ruin your day.

Perhaps the safest piece of equipment in the mailroom capable of moving skids from place to place is a simple manual pallet jack. These units are inexpensive and easy to use, although no piece of equipment can be made accident proof. Since steel doesn’t have a brain or common sense, it’s still up to the operator to be safe. I’ve seen pallet jacks rolled across toes and depending on the weight of the load and body mechanics, back injuries can occur. This is why you should take nothing for granted and require training on each and every piece of equipment, powered or not, that has the potential of creating a harmful situation.

Safety aside, one of the most expensive mistakes you can make is not properly training your clamp truck driver in proper operations. These units, commonly used to unload paper trucks and place rolls into a warehouse, can cause expensive damage to the rolls if not used properly. Clamp a paper roll too tight and you’ll crush the core potentially leaving the roll unusable (unless you have a core repair device—which I highly recommend). Don’t put enough pressure (clamp) on a roll and you can drop it causing damage to the paper and setting up a very serious safety issue. Either way you lose.

The same clamp pressure can’t be used on dinky rolls that can be used on full rolls without crushing the core. Several companies now offer units or aftermarket devices that allow the operator to set the tension on the clamp dependent on the size and weight of the roll. If you’re not fortunate enough to have one of these devices, you need to rely on the touch and common sense of the operator. Train them right and it will pay off big time in the long run.

Clamp operators should be instructed to lift only one roll at a time. Often when they’re in a hurry, I’ve seen operators lift multiple rolls and slide multiple rolls across the floor to save time. Not only is this not a safe practice but can obviously damage the roll.

Moving multiple rolls is an extremely dangerous action that can lead to serious injury or death. Take it from someone who has investigated a fatal accident involving newsprint rolls, just when you think it isn’t going to happen in your shop, it will.

We all must rely on power driven heavy equipment to load and unload trucks and move material throughout our facility. Proper training and ongoing education are necessary to protect our employees and property from harm. Working towards safety on the front-end is always easier and more beneficial than searching for apologies on the back-end.

Jerry Simpkins is vice president of the West Texas Printing Center with Morris Printing Services, LLC in Lubbock, Texas.

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