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OPINION AND COMMENTARY
Millions of businesses across the US use forklifts everyday in their operations. While these employers are supposed to use only those forklift operators who have completed forklift safety training, there currently is no single, agreed-upon training program that holds all drivers and businesses to the same standard.
Instead, businesses are on their own to develop their own forklift safety training and certification program. Or they can turn to any one of hundreds of unregulated training experts, community colleges, or technical schools who will conduct training sessions either in-person or online — for a price.
These forklift safety consultants typically will take care of written and practical testing, as well as issuing certification documents to employees who successfully complete the course.
No Universal Forklift Training Standards
But none of these courses are standardized, so how can you tell if every forklift driver is receiving the same type of high-quality training that is necessary for the continual safe operation of these potentially dangerous pieces of heavy machinery?
The fact is that until some sort of standardized national safety training program is developed, you can’t.
Under the current system, there is no real penalty for no providing employees with forklift safety training — unless a forklift accident that results in injury or death occurs at the business. After an accident, OSHA inspectors will demand to see documentation that employers provided the appropriate safety training for the operator involved in the crash. If it can’t be provided, the company can be fined.
But that’s sort of like setting the cart before the horse. It removes the incentive of punishment from the equation, allowing untrained drivers to operate forklifts as long as nothing goes wrong.
That allows companies to decide for themselves whether or not they want to take their chances that they can save time, money and productivity by not training drivers, or simply assume that they already have received forklift safety training at some previous point in their career.
And given the number of citations OSHA has issued in recent years, there are plenty of companies that are willing to take the risk.
We Need a National Forklift Safety Training Standard
The time is now for standardized forklift training — or at least some sort of universally consistent testing and certification standard — to be implemented on the federal level. This would hold all forklift drivers to the same competency, but it also would make it simpler for regulatory agencies such as OSHA to keep track of which companies are in compliance and which aren’t.
Neither untrained forklift drivers nor other employees who are unlucky enough to get in their way should have to work another day in this dangerous, unregulated environment. Our nation’s workers deserve the assurance of knowing that the workplaces they toil in are safe and secure.
At the very least, why doesn’t OSHA or another federal agency develop a baseline skills assessment that could be accessed online? While it may cut into the profits of private companies that already offer these types of training and testing services, some of these firms could be contracted to handle the practical observation testing aspect of the certification process.
It seems as though every day there’s another avoidable forklift accident in which a worker is injured or killed. Creating minimal standards for employers to follow seems like the least we can do to ensure the safety of our workplaces.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are exclusively those of its author.