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One item in a warehouse operation that has the most potential for accidents as well as injuries and deaths caused by accidents is the forklift. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency with the responsibility to enforce safety and health laws, there are about 85 fatalities and 34,900 serious injuries due to forklift accidents a year. It has been and continues to be a very serious problem for the warehouse trade. That is why the industry is obsessed with offering and requiring forklift drivers to participate in an OSHA-certified forklift driver-training program.
Potential and current drivers as well as warehouse personnel who organize the training programs have a lot of questions concerning the training of forklift drivers. What follows are answers to the most frequently asked questions concerning this issue.
Q: Does OSHA regulations require warehouses to offer an annual forklift-training program?
A: No. However, it does require a refresher program that has to be conducted when a driver operates his forklift in an unsafe manner. This includes being involved in an accident or near accident, receiving a poor evaluation from the forklift fleet manager, or when there are changes in the workplace or type of truck being driven.
Q: Dose OSHA require an evaluation of forklift operators and, if so, how often?
A: Yes, OSHA requires that forklift drivers be evaluated at least once every three years.
Q: Are warehouses required to provide forklift operation training for each make and model?
A: No. However, a driver must be trained on each type of forklift. OSHA distinguishes the differences as a sit-down rider truck versus a stand-up truck or an order-picker versus a pallet jack. OSHA does not require training of a driver who uses the same type of truck he has been driving, but starts driving a truck made by a different manufacturer. However, the driver will have to be instructed in any differences such as truck controls.
Q: Would a written exam alone suffice for the required three-year operator evaluation?
A: No, not by a written exam alone. A written exam does not show whether the operator is driving the truck safely. The person doing the evaluation is required to observe the operator during normal operations to determine if he is driving safely and he must ask the driver pertinent questions to ensure that he has the knowledge or experience needed to operate the truck safely.
Q: Does OSHA require a forklift driver have a valid driver’s license?
A: No. However, it does require that all drivers be trained and certified to operate a lift in the workplace and that the driver’s performance be evaluated every three years. OSHA also requires that the employer keep a record documenting that the driver has successfully completed the training.
Q: Is a potential driver required to take a vision and hearing test before he is allowed to operate a forklift?
A: OSHA rules do not specifically mention vision and/or hearing tests. However, the agency has issued a letter of interpretation stating that employers must determine if full vision is mandatory for the operation of a forklift and advises that the appropriate medical personnel be consulted. OSHA has also issued other interpretations concerning visual and hearing-impaired potential forklift drivers. According to OSHA, employers must consider any physical impairment on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, there are safety standards concerning low lift and high lift trucks that call for the driver to be qualified as to his vision, hearing, and physical and mental ability to operate the equipment safely.
Q: Who can train, evaluate and certify a forklift operator?
A: According to OSHA, people who train forklift drivers must have the “knowledge, training, and experience” to train drivers and evaluate their abilities.
Q: How should an employer determine the qualifications of a trainer?
A: A qualified trainer would be a person who has a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing or who, by knowledge, training and experience, has demonstrated the ability to train and evaluate forklift operators.
Q: Can the person doing the training come from outside the company?
A: Yes. The employer can hire a training consultant or a manufacturer’s representative to provide the training. However, it is the responsibility of the employer to gather evidence that the driver has been trained in the required program topics.
Q: If an outside consultant trains employees, how does the employer know they have been trained adequately?
A: The outside consultant can provide proof that the employee has successfully completed classroom and practical training. However, it is still the responsibility of the employer to ensure that each driver is competent to drive a forklift safely. OSHA personnel wrote in a letter of interpretation, “As long as the employer has a reasonable basis to believe that the third-party trainer is qualified and has a program that meets the requirements of the standard, it can rely on that trainer to conduct the training and evaluation of employees and can certify that these employees have been trained. However… the employer may need to provide additional training on site-specific or truck-specific matters.” OHSA requires that driver also be trained on the local conditions and hazards before he is allowed to operate a forklift in the workplace.
Q: What kind of training is required?
A: The training must include lectures, videos and practical demonstration and exercises as well as an evaluation of the driver’s performance in the workplace. Forklift-related and workplace-related topics as well as requirements set down by OSHA standards must also be included.