For managers of cold storage warehouses, employee retention is nothing short of essential — it’s a crucial factor in developing a leaner, more efficient operation. Unfortunately, lift truck operators in cold storage facilities leave for other positions more frequently than equivalent job holders in conventional warehouses.
The turnover rate for material handling positions in the refrigerated storage industry has soared as high as 40 percent according to industry publication Frozen Food Age, and while analysts have not published exact data on the causes of this disparity, the discomfort of working in subzero temperatures is clearly a contributing factor. Quoted in the trade journal Modern Material Handling in 2011, industry insider Perry Ardito put it this way:
“Imagine you have to stand up in your office all day, then someone turns down the temperature to freezing,” he said. “It’s probably not a place you’re going to retire from.”
Providing improved warmth and comfort for associates does more than improve retention; it also increases productivity. Historically, productivity in below-freezing storage areas has been reduced by 30 to 60 percent compared to ambient temperature environments. This trend can be reversed by keeping staff warm and secure. To put it another way, improving retention and optimizing productivity go hand in hand.
A commitment to operator comfort is essential for keeping experienced staff on the job, and better equipment — along with logical work practices — can pay dividends in the long term.
Keeping Material Handling Staff Comfortable in the Cold
Cold temperatures are certainly problematic for some workers. Dependable heating for lift truck cabs is the first step in improving operator comfort, but a few operational changes can also help keep drivers safe and warm while improving overall productivity.
Reducing the number of trips in and out of controlled atmosphere areas will make workdays much more bearable, as the shock of frequent temperature changes can be distressing (to say the least). Ergonomic controls in material handling equipment will improve comfort and reduce physical stress; equipment with larger controls can allow workers to wear heavy gloves without sacrificing productivity.
Of course, it’s difficult to address frequent temperature changes and equipment ergonomics without addressing battery change schedules — a crucial consideration in any cold storage operation.
Reducing Discomfort With Better Battery Changing Practices
Industry leaders agree that electric forklifts are the best equipment for material handling in cold storage warehouses. A 2009 report from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries reports that “electric forklifts are the only reliable tool for safe movement of produce within opened controlled atmosphere rooms,” and battery handling is therefore a primary concern for lift truck operators in the industry.
A few improvements in battery handling equipment can lead to greater job satisfaction, reducing turnover rates for cold storage lift truck operators.
Employ a Forklift Battery Management System
– A computerized battery fleet management program optimizes complex scheduling and ordering tasks, allowing operators to focus on material handling and order picking.
Battery management software can also track battery capacity levels, eliminating the frustration of frequent change-outs, and can substantially limit battery changes in larger storage facilities for a more efficient operation.
Using Mobile Battery Extractors
– In cold storage environments, moving lift trucks between temperatures is stressful for both the operators and their lift trucks. Completing battery changes without moving from cold to ambient areas is an easy way to limit the stress and simultaneously reduce both turnover and equipment expenses.
Because fewer tasks are automated with portable forklift battery changers, optimal battery changing equipment features a comprehensive set of safety features, including floor locks, parking brakes and battery containment bars.
Safer Lifting Equipment for Better Performance
– Keeping adequate safety equipment available at all times offers employees the confidence that they are prepared for any eventuality. OSHA regulations mandate that personal protective equipment and spill kits designed to clean up battery acid safely must be provided for all facilities that use lead-acid batteries.
Limiting Turnover in the Refrigerated Storage Industry
Higher turnover rates lead to a more inexperienced workforce, which cold storage facilities can rarely afford. Mistakes involving forklifts threaten safety and can damage products and equipment; experienced operators make fewer mistakes.
Providing operators with comfortable seats, ergonomic controls, heated cabs and improved battery changing equipment will keep them on the job longer for safer and more productive operations. Many of these changes require fairly small investments, so they won’t leave your budget — or your employees — out in the cold.
“Energy Use Down, Operating Efficiency Up.” Frozen Food Age 57.4 (2008): 28. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
Klie, Leonard. “Take The Chill Out Of High-Priced Labor.” Frozen Food Age 55.7 (2007): 47. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.