When someone mentions material handling almost everyone thinks of powered industrial trucks. Some believe “a lift truck is a lift truck,” and their purchasing decision depends upon dealer service and customer care. Others are as stubborn as Democrats and Republicans at election time. For those there is only one manufacturer of equipment for their operation.

Regardless, all such decisions begin with a simple question: What type of truck is needed? Will it be a reach truck, order-picker, counterbalanced stand-up rider or an operator-controlled, wire-guided system? Will it be an electric, LP gas, gasoline or diesel-powered unit? What is the necessary equipment capacity, lifting height, overall lowered height, turning radius, carriage type and carriage width? Beyond fork length and width, some applications require specialized attachments, be they side-shifters, paper roll clamps, bale clamps, fork positioners or fork-mounted jib booms. Should the equipment be purchased, leased or rented? Maintenance capabilities and support systems—i.e., parts, labor cost and equipment warranties--must also be considered.

It requires a lot of effort to find the right equipment, the right dealership and the right support system. Purchasers cannot allow the equipment to overshadow the unique needs of your company’s material handling operation. When acquiring powered industrial equipment consider product packaging, product damage potential, product storage and retrieval. The uniqueness in your material handling operations starts at the receiving dock; what you purchase and how it is packaged is not what you make and ship to your customers. All of this requires a lot of work but buying the right equipment is only the first challenge. Finding good operators can be even more difficult.

Everyone wants to achieve an accident and injury-free workplace. This isn’t an easy objective for a variety of reasons. Recently, I helped a client train a group of 30 new hires. In one of the training sessions, one young man stood up and said, “Man, how do you expect me to learn how to operate all of this equipment? All I have ever done is play Nintendo and flip hamburgers at McDonalds.”

In my career I have witnessed with amazement the advancement of technology and the improvements in powered industrial equipment design and operation, including the use of lasers, bar coding, electronic controls, computer systems and robotics. We have moved into a technically advanced age but many of our young people do not have the technical background to understand what may have taken us months to build and years to learn. Those 30 new hires are one short today because this company identified through training and mentor-conducted performance evaluations that one crewmember was not cut out for the task.

Just the other day, I was visiting with my neighbor who works for a primary health care facility. She had recently attended a worker compensation seminar where over 80 percent of the attendees were attorneys. That many attorneys and young people who “have only played Nintendo and flipped hamburgers” is a recipe for disaster.

Late last year I was an expert witness in a court case over an incident where a young man lost an eye. In the investigation it was found that the company did not require the use of safety glasses for the task being performed. Although safety glasses were available, the new hire did not understand the need to wear them.

What is in your basic employee training program? Kids today are raised differently than in the past. These differences must be accounted for. If we do not close the gap with appropriate training, our companies will bear the responsibility for the injured parties.

For those who are hiring new employees from the wonderland of dedicated, caring and responsible individuals who are team players, who take care of their equipment and who need little to no training, don’t tell anyone! When others find out where you are, they will move in next door.

Be Safe,


Jim L. Shephard

Jim Shephard has been in the material-handling business for more than 20 years, selling lift trucks, conveyors, racks and lift-truck attachments. Today, his company, Shephard's Industrial Training System’s, Inc. (Bartlett, Tenn.), provides custom employee training for all types of mobile equipment. He can be reached by e-mail or (901) 382-5507.