Top 10 Employee Training Tools: Material Handling


Top 10 Employee Training Tools: Material Handling

A look at safe and proper handling and storage

A company’s sales and design teams put significant time into winning a job and designing the project’s structural components. The production team has also invested a good deal of sweat equity into manufacturing each quality component per its individual design. The last thing anyone wants is for all that time and effort to be wasted, or an injury to occur, when an avoidable accident, improper movement or bending, or poor storage compromises the structural integrity of the component and forces the production team to have to manufacture replacements.

This entire article series has been looking at various aspects of the component manufacturing process and identifying areas where simple training and straightforward company policies can make a significant impact on the overall efficiency of an operation and the quality of the product produced. This installment will look at the issue of material handling and focus on the reasons for minimizing handling, tips for forklift operation, storage basics and best practices for cargo loading.

Properly defined, material handling is the field concerned with pragmatic solutions to problems involving the movement, storage in a plant, control and protection of materials, goods and products throughout the processes of cleaning, preparation, manufacturing, distribution, consumption and disposal of all related materials, goods and their packaging. For simplicity, this article will break material handling down into three areas: safe handling, proper handling and proper storage.

Safe Handling

Similar to this article series’ guidance with regard to the use of personal protection equipment (PPE) for production employees (see May 2014 article), employees handling raw materials and finished products need to be up to speed on your company’s safety program and all the PPE they need to wear to protect themselves from injury. Gloves should be worn at all times, and have good grips. Back braces should be available and it’s not a bad idea to provide instruction on how to properly fit and wear one. PPE not only protects employees from injury; it can also make them more efficient.

For example, gloves with a good grip will allow employees to grab boards without slipping, while also minimizing the chance of getting a splinter (a minor, yet distracting injury). Gloves are even more important when handling gusset plates. Their sharp edges and teeth can cause a multitude of minor to more serious skin lacerations, particularly when handling heavy, awkward components. It’s also important to remind employees that back-braces are not a tool to help employee to lift more weight as much as they are a guide to help them have correct posture and technique when lifting heavy boxes, boards or stacks.

The training of employees on safe material handling should not only focus on their personal safety, but also on the safety of those around them. A good example of this is moving a bunk of lumber from one location to another using a forklift. It’s a good practice to have the forklift driver beep their horn several times as they move to alert those around them. Finished components can be challenging to maneuver; having a company policy that employees not engaged in the handling are clear of the area is a good way to avoid injuries in the event a component moves in an unexpected manner.

Proper Handling

When handling material, there are several areas that need to be taken into consideration. There are three different ways of handling material in the component operation: through automation, which this article will not cover, through mechanical means by way of a forklift, and by manual means using a cart and by hand. By far, the most common method for handling in the components industry is the forklift due to the weight involved in the raw materials and finished products. For that reason, this article will focus primarily on forklift use.

Suffice it to say that thorough forklift instruction and mentoring should be a critical part of a company’s employee training program. Not only should the forklift training regimen include OSHA compliance information, it should also include industry best practices. Many of those best practices can be found in one place: the SBCA Forklift Certification program, a part of SBCA's Operation Safety. This program integrates online training with hands-on exercises to provide a diversified course for the industry’s forklift operators. For new or experienced operators, this program helps CMs train, evaluate and monitor operations on a continual basis.

The most important area to focus on with forklift operator training is in handling component packages from the production area to storage and from storage to transport. Similar to the issues covered in the Driver Training article in this series, the odd-sized loads that result from banded component packages require special considerations when it comes to positioning and movement. First and foremost is for the forklift operator to always be aware and cautious of the load limit of the forklift, as well as the size and spacing of the tines. With only two lift points at the tines, load balance and positioning are critical.

Further, it’s a good practice for the operator to ensure that, when lifting multiple components, they are secured with banding before lifting. Lifting multiple loose components can be a recipe for disaster as it is so easy for portions of the load to shift and become unbalanced during movement. In some cases, a load may be too large or heavy for a single forklift, and may need to have two (and sometimes three) forklifts to lift and move. In these instances, it’s vital every operator is aware of their path and who is coordinating the lift. A third person should supervise the lift and alert other employees during movement to ensure a clear path since sight lines for the operators can be limited due to the size and position of the load relative to their vantage point in the driver’s seat.

One additional best practice to consider: In the article on housekeeping, it was suggested that attaching a collection can to the forklift for collecting trash, banding, etc. can make clean-up more efficient. Taking that idea a step further, it may also be a good idea to attach to the back of the lift an area where loose boards, cutoffs, stickers, etc. can be collected that the operator can use to place under bunks to keep them off the ground.

Proper Storage

When storing raw materials and finished product, it’s a good practice to keep material as dry as possible. This starts with keeping all materials off the ground, which can be accomplished through a wide variety of methods. Using old cutoffs, boards and pallets can allow for flexibility in designating storage areas, moving storage to wherever is convenient in a given situation. Of course, if operations and throughput tend to be more static, building permanent racks out of steel can provide the advantage of more consistent material tracking (i.e., everyone knows where something is because there’s a permanent place for it).

Keeping lumber bunks off the ground with inventory labels to the front can also ensure quick location and identification. Another good tip is to have a system for raw material inventory rotation, using the oldest inventory first. If lumber cannot be stored in an area protected from the elements, check with your lumber supplier on whether it’s possible to get the lumber bunks delivered in a wrap to protect it. Protection from the elements is about keeping the moisture content of the lumber low and mold to a minimum. Keeping the lumber off the ground also prevents the forklift operator from damaging any of the boards when lifting the bunk.

For forklift operators, taking care of finished goods is as important as carefully handling raw materials. Just as with raw materials, it’s a good idea to keep finished components off the ground. Forklift operators need to be able to get the forklift tines under the load of finished goods without the potential of damaging chords and webs.


Raw materials are a significant investment. The finished product represents the culmination of effort on behalf of multiple employees over time. That’s why it is so important to ensure that material is stored, moved and loaded onto transport in a safe and cautious manner to ensure no one gets hurt and the final product doesn’t get damaged. Putting time into training on the front end, ensuring employees have proper PPE and good working equipment, and committing to continual retraining as issues arise or handling procedures change, is well worth the time and effort.

Ben Hershey is a Past President of SBCA and Owner of 4Ward Consulting Group - Experts in Lean Management & Manufacturing. Designer Training will be covered in the April issue.