(September 7, 2010-The Ledger)—Some award-winners may hang large, stuffed fish on their walls, others proudly sport trophies. But for 32-year-old pallet jack handler Migdieser "Chico" Tirado of Lakeland, having the skill to become a national safety championship finalist meant a check in the bank for the future of his children.
Tirado, who works for the Lakeland division of U.S. Foodservice, was awarded $2,000 in August when he won first place against 63 of his peers in the pallet jack category during the company's fourth annual National Safety Championship in San Antonio, Texas.
An electric-powered pallet jack is a tool used to lift and mount pallets, as well as select product and load trucks in U.S. Foodservice's massive warehouses.
While being a skilled jack handler certainly mattered in the competition, Tirado also mastered a series of knowledge, safety and driving challenges during the competition.
Competitors take a written test, and then look over a jack handler rigged with safety hazards and identify the problems. (That equipment is not used in the competition.) An obstacle course is driven, and simulated courses are taken.
Tirado said he has always paid close attention to safety rules and precautions as part of his training and daily work - and it paid off. He did do some prep work, however, to gear up for the competition.
"I reviewed all of the safety materials," he said, "including the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration) requirements and safeguards. I also practiced maneuvering the pallet jack in the warehouse."
His supervisor, Erik Pyle, said the Lakeland group is excited to see one of their own make it to the national competition. The food service distributing corporation, which has 25,000 associates in 60 locations, holds the event to promote camaraderie, the importance of safety regulations and to acknowledge the most skilled drivers. Families and employees gather to cheer participants on, Pyle said.
He wasn't surprised Tirado, a reach truck operator for the company, did so well, he said, because he has excellent skills and a very good safety record. Pyle said maneuvering the heavy equipment, which is about the weight of two automobiles, requires considerable experience, training and concentration.
"There's a lot of fast moving, employees are on and off the floor while one of the individuals is driving them," he said.
Tirado, who has worked for U.S. Foodservice for five years, said he's had fun with the championship events.
"I enjoy competing with my colleagues and representing the Lakeland division."