Working in a warehouse can be dangerous. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates there are approximately 34,900 serious injuries every year due to forklift mishaps alone. With sobering statistics like this, companies need to be asking themselves an important question--who is training our forklift operators?
The trainer is the final arbiter of who gets to sit on a forklift. He is the one that will certify the fitness of a trainee and their ability to maneuver the vehicle under the specific conditions of the facility where the forklift will be operating. The safety of every single worker that steps onto the floor of that facility is therefore the trainer's responsibility.
Companies must be absolutely sure they can trust the person they've appointed as forklift trainer. So, who's the trainer? For one thing, say experts, it can't be a DVD player.
"A lot of smaller companies don't have the financing or staff to do training properly," says Wayne Wilde, director of customer training and technical publications for Nissan Forklift Corp., Marengo, IL.
"They've read that if they get a video, show it to a guy and have him drive around a pylon that it's good enough."
Wilde believes such an approach is only marginally good. The level of concern for safety must be high enough to warrant a better approach, such as bringing in people with more training expertise. Many forklift companies offer courses to train on-site trainers in the basics of forklift operation.
An on-site trainer should be readily available to provide training for companies that experience high turnover rates. It can be prohibitively expensive if a company has to hire a third-party trainer to constantly come out and train its new hires.
"By having us train your trainers you pay one flat rate," says Melissa Coito, training manager for Toyota Material Handling Northern CA, Hayward, CA. "You receive the videos and manuals and the only thing you need to purchase in the future are certificates.
"If a company has a high turnover rate, like a winery or a packing house, I suggest to them they make the investment in one employee whom they know is going to be there," says Coito.
During her trainer sessions, she goes over the rules and regulations relating to OSHA's 1910.178 forklift standard and teaches trainees how to write lesson plans specifically related to their environments.
"We give them the tools and information they need to go back and train their people in accordance with OSHA standards, so as they have turnover, the company has an employee on site that can manage it."
In addition to being on hand to train new hires, a company-sited trainer can be readily available to deal with re-training situations. OSHA says that operator re-evaluations must be performed once every three years.
In addition, operators must undergo refresher training if they are observed operating a lift truck in an unsafe manner, or if they've been involved in an accident or near-miss incident.
They must also be re-evaluated if they've received an evaluation that reveals the operator is not operating the truck safely or if he has been assigned to operate a different type of truck.
Training The Trainer
"The trainer needs to know the ins and outs of every single vehicle in the facility. They also need to know how to read the capacity plates on the vehicles," says Toyota's Coito. She says most trainers are unable to answer the question about the capacity that their vehicles are able to lift, which means they and their operators are constantly guessing about the loads they are working with. "How can they train an operator to do something if they don't know how to do it?"
In addition to forklift capacity, OSHA requires that operators have a good grasp of engine operation, vehicle stability, refueling, fork operation, operating limitations and inspection and maintenance--obviously this means trainers need to know these things as well.
There are other many other elements a trainer must be well-versed in.