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You Might Have A Bad Warehouse If... Your Forklift Driver Brings Down the House

By Kate Vitasek | 12/07/2009 | 9:01 AM

Not much needs to be said for this one, simply watch the CCTV video. It combines a bit of mystery with comedy, horror and disaster in an action-packed 97 seconds.

Looking at the beginning of the video, the driver is on the opposite side of the aisle from his forklift. He opens a carton, does something suspicious, closes the carton and walks over to his forklift. The rest as they say is history: an estimated $150,000 in damages.

This amazing incident occurred last month (ED: November) in a Moscow bottled alcohol warehouse, so it’s quite possible that this wasn’t the driver’s first “nip” of the day.

Whether or not that’s true -- it could be a case of equipment malfunction on a grand scale -- this train-wreck, er forklift-wreck bears repeated views and not simply because of the enormity, danger (and dare I say it?), the hilarity of the situation occurring in this warehouse.

First, it speaks volumes about the screening, training and competence of the worker or workers by management. In this case the driver came out of it with minor injuries; he was extremely lucky.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration report about 100 warehouse employees are killed and 95,000 are injured every year in accidents while operating forklifts. OSHA says: “The majority of fatalities are caused by forklift turnovers. Being crushed between a forklift and another surface is the second highest percentage, followed by getting stuck in a forklift and then getting hit by falling material from a dropped load.”

Then look at the facility’s floor layout. The aisle is narrow, with scarcely room for two unloaded forklifts to pass each other abreast. Plus, the floor is obstructed by pallets and … trash? Or is that important paperwork (packing slips, order pick lists) on the floor?

Further, does it seem like those shelves on both sides of the aisle were a bit unstable if they toppled so easily? Were they overloaded, top-heavy, improperly stacked and not able to bear the weight? The cube fill rate looks to have been shaky at best and now is totally blown.

This might be a good time for the managers of this warehouse to study the Warehousing Education and Research Council Best Practices Guide’s sections on material handling, putaway, slotting and WMS. A warehouse inventory management system and training program could have helped avoid this disaster and would help in sorting through and salvaging the resulting debris.

“Poor workplace conditions lead to waste, product damage and safety issues, such as extra motion to avoid obstacles, time spent searching for things, delays due to defects, machine failures or accidents,” the Guide says.

OSHA guidelines on forklift operations, outlined in a recent article titled "Warehouse Safety" by supply chain management consultant Martin Murray, include:
  • Train, evaluate and certify all operators to ensure that they can operate forklifts safely, follow safe procedures for picking up, putting down and stacking loads
  • Drive safely and never exceed 5 mph; slow down in congested areas,
  • Maintain sufficiently safe clearances for aisles and at loading docks or passages where forklifts are used
  • Train employees on the hazards associated with the combustion byproducts of forklift operation, such as carbon monoxide.

It occurs to me that this particular warehouse illustrates issues beyond the antics of one ill-fated forklift driver.

It was an accident waiting to happen.

I really love your feedback - and love your contributions to share those bad warehouse stories to help educate the profession on what NOT to do, and maybe what to do if you’re not doing it.

If you've got an example of a bad warehouse practice, send me your story and photo(s) to [email protected].

If I feature your example in one of my blogs, WERC will send you a free copy of the WERC Warehousing & Fulfillment Process Benchmark & Best Practices Guide (a $160 value).

Your submission can be anonymous if you like so you don't get your boss or company in trouble! I'll be collecting examples all year and the winner will receive a free warehouse assessment from Supply Chain Visions, a $10,000 value. The runner up will win a free conference registration to the WERC conference (a $1,375 value).

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About Kate Vitasek

Kate Vitasek

Kate Vitasek is a nationally recognized innovator in the practice of supply chain management. Vitasek is founder of Supply Chain Visions—a boutique consulting firm specializing in supply chain management. She is also a faculty member at the University of Tennessee's Center for Executive Education. A prolific writer, Vitasek has authored the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' best-selling mini-book series, Supply Chain Process Standards, and has contributed to other management books as well. Along with Karl Manrodt of Georgia Southern University, she co-leads WERC's popular annual benchmarking study.

About Steve Murray

Steve Murray

Steve Murray is a Principal Consultant and Chief of Research for Supply Chain Visions, a boutique consulting firm specializing in supply chain management. Prior to joining Supply Chain Visions he held a variety of functional and management roles in the distribution and manufacturing sectors, including 15 year managing an IT consulting firm. Steve has been instrumental in development of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professional's "Supply Chain Management Process Standards", the Warehousing Education and Research Council's Warehousing & Fulfillment Process Benchmarking & Best Practice Guide" and the WERC "Warehouse Certification Program". He is lead auditor for the WERC's Certification Program.


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