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Editor’s Note: The following commentary addresses the need for expanding training requirements for forklift operators in the US. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
Forklift operators in the UK are required to complete a three-stage training regimen before they can legally operate lift trucks in the workplace: A basic training course, specific job training, and familiarization training.
This type of in-depth training not only provides them with the basic skills operators need to safely control their multi-ton vehicles, but it also gives them exposure to job- and task-specific potential dangers they will face once they get into a live working environment.
While even UK safety officials admit that this three-tiered training model isn’t always followed completely by every company, it provides substantially comprehensive safety training than the type US forklift drivers currently are required to receive.
‘After the Fact’ Compliance
Right now, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires companies to provide their lift truck operators with instruction and safety training. The federal agency also requires companies to certify that this training has taken place and to keep records of the training in each employee’s individual personnel file.
But unlike the UK, companies are only required to prove that they have provided this training if something goes horribly wrong. This type of “after the fact” compliance is the wrong approach.
Only in the event that a forklift driver is involved in a workplace accident that involves and injury or death does the company need to produce certification of safety training. If they can’t prove that they provided the operator involved with adequate training, they can face penalties that can include fines and reprimands.
The current US system doesn’t provide enough protection for forklift operators, the companies that employ them, or other workers because it simply requires proof of training after than fact, unlike the UK system which requires employers to provide evidence that operators have completed all three tiers of safety training before ever being allowed behind the wheel of a forklift.
A Better System
The US should adopt the three-tiered UK model:
The first type of training UK forklift operators must complete is similar to the type of training lift truck drivers in the US typically receive. It includes basic information about how to operate a forklift safely. This includes practical skills such as how to turn a forklift on and off, how to maneuver through obstacles, and how to operate the hydraulic controls. Drivers also learn the essentials of safe operation, as well as the risks and hazards they will face in the field.
Also covered are pre-use inspections and routine basic maintenance, such as refueling, battery use, and tire care.
Specific Job Training
After completing basic training, UK forklift drivers learn how the skills they have mastered can be applied in the context of their actual job. This includes such things as how to use the different attachments they will be using, the layout of the specific machines they will be operating, and the types of conditions they will be working in, such as confined areas, racking systems, and cold storage.
Another topic covered during specific job training are site-specific rules and regulations, such as speed zones, pedestrian areas, traffic flow, and the types of personal protective equipment they must wear at all times while operating their vehicles.
Generally, both basic training and specific job training will be performed somewhere other than the workplace. This is to ensure that the operator can learn in a safe environment away from other people and equipment.
Finally, after a driver has gained experience operating a forklift and an understanding of their specific role within an organization, they are ready for the third phase of forklift training: Familiarization.
This is when the new driver operates his vehicle in the workplace under the close supervision of his boss or trainer. Drivers are introduced to the “live-work” environment for the first time, where they apply the skills and knowledge they have gained during the first two stages to real-world scenarios and job tasks.
The trainee typically is given simple tasks at first, but they gradually build in complexity as they gain experience and confidence. Depending on how quickly the operator develops his or her skill, familiarization training can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
This type of comprehensive, real-world safety training needs to be adopted as an OSHA requirement now before more US workers are injured in workplace accidents involving forklifts.