"They have to learn the basics of the building and how the company functions," says Greg Mason, general manager, products and training, for Richmond, VA-based Jungheinrich Lift Truck Corp.
In fact, OSHA's 1910.178 standard is very clear that operators must be trained in accordance with such specific environmental factors as surface conditions where vehicles are to be operated, the compositions of loads that will be carried on trucks, the various hazardous locations in a facility, as well as ramps and other sloped surfaces in the building.
They must also understand the basic pedestrian traffic patterns in the building and be able to notify operators of any closed environments where insufficient ventilation could cause a hazardous buildup of diesel exhaust from internal combustion forklifts.
"He should also be the most knowledgeable person in the plant in terms of how they should handle their product," notes Nissan's Wilde. This is especially true when it comes to the handling of hazardous materials.
"The trainer has to communicate to the operator all the knowledge he has about how to handle the product as safely as possible," says Wilde.
The trainer also has to be knowledgeable in a set of core principals regarding lift truck operation. "We're talking about travel procedures--every truck you get on should be operated in a safe manner," says Mike Angelini, manager of field training services for Raymond Corp., Greene, NY.
"When you come to an intersection, you sound your horn to alert people that you're coming to that point. Any program will have a good grounding in those basic principals."
Angelini is quick to point out that yes, a person does have to be familiar with the equipment, "but to say they have to have driven a forklift for 20 years--I don't think so. There are many other qualities that a trainer needs to embody.
Communication Is Key
"An ideal trainer must not only understand the subject matter, they must understand the principals of learning," says Angelini.
Training adults involves the principal of engagement. The best trainers should know how to encourage interactivity and foster learning.
"They innately understand the thought process behind the answers students give--especially if they're the wrong answers. They help them understand why their assumptions might be incorrect and help them get to the right answers."
Another trait the experts stress is the ability to communicate. The ideal trainer is someone who is able to take the information about company policies and safe forklift operation and communicate it to the trainees in a manner which they'll pay attention to. After all, their lives could depend upon it.
"You can have someone who has the most knowledge and can handle things on the floor, but when he gets up in front of a class, he can't communicate," explains Nissan's Wilde. "He's just not comfortable in front of people."
This is why in Nissan's trainer classes, Wilde actually gives students part of the class to teach to their fellow students, as a measurement of whether they can go back and teach classes at their own companies.
"It's important to choose the right people for your potential trainers," says Toyota's Coito. "I've had trainers come through and they're very self-conscious about speaking in front of people. They have to be able to come from a position of authority."
This is especially important when dealing with hardened forklift operators. Coito says she's taught classes here she's had to deal with operators who have been driving forklifts for 30 years and they have the attitude that there's nothing new anyone can teach them.
"I tell them--great. You should be able to get 100 percent on the test since you've been driving for 30 years. Then I tell them to let me know if they actually learn something new by the end of the class."
Typically they don't get 100 percent on the test and they end up telling her they've learned something they didn't know before. Perhaps one of the most important skills the trainer must bring to the table is the ability to use his own judgment. This includes knowing when to stop investing time and training on someone who "just won't get it."