Forklift Training-What's Being Left Out?

By not addressing workplace conditions, companies may be courting disaster.

Lift truck safety training is a big issue and it should be: the monetary damages and loss of life that can result from accidents with lift trucks is staggering. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released a report in June 2001 stating that forklifts strike people every day in the U.S., resulting in 100 deaths and over 20,000 injuries annually. The costs incurred due to forklift accidents are over $100 million a year.

There are dozens of companies out there that are solely dedicated to offering operator training or "train the trainer" type courses. In addition, most of the lift truck manufacturers offer training courses that are specifically focused on the types of trucks that they offer.

"Our safety training program is called 'Safety On The Move' and it's actually available to customers in two ways," says Mike Angelini, manager of field training services for The Raymond Corp., Greene, NY. "It's available as a class from a Raymond dealer or we have a package that the customer buys from the dealer. The program is a multi-media one, there are slides, videotape and text material."

Safety On The Move uses interactive discussions and demonstrations of safety principles, video-based examples and hands-on sessions. The training modules cover such topics as safety, the operator's daily checklist, travel procedures, safe load handling, ramps and loading docks, batteries and operating the truck itself.

Matt Hays, general manager at Hays' Food Systems, a wholesale food distributor in Warrenton, MI, took the Safety On The Move course at Raymond's headquarters and sings its praises. "It's a really good course and we've recently implemented it here. We have not had an accident in 14 or 15 months."

"Programs such as this can help you improve your bottom line by reducing accidents, work disruptions and product damage," says Angelini. According to Raymond, industry studies have shown that effective operator training can improve worker safety performance by up to 70 percent.

However effective as the initial training might be though, some warehouses may be missing the boat on a number of important fronts when newly-trained trainers come back from their training sessions and set out to apply what they have learned to their in-house lift truck operators.

What's Lacking?

"A lot of folks think that if they just go to some generic course and they're trained on the forklift, they're good to go," says Patrick Kapust, safety and health specialist for occupational and safety health specialists at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

"But as part of the standard, there are not only truck-related topics, there are also workplace related topics, where you need to go over the types of conditions at the specific place where the truck is going to be operated," says Kapust. "There could be blind corners, there could be ramps, there could be traffic considerations and so forth."

According to OSHA Regulation 1910.178 "The employer shall ensure that each powered industrial truck operator is competent to operate a powered industrial truck safely, as demonstrated by the successful completion of the training and evaluation…" The regulation goes on to say that the training shall consist not only of formal instruction and practical training, but also "evaluation of the operator's performance in the workplace."

"An important part of the training is to go over whatever specific issues may be at that workplace," says Kapust.

Workplace conditions that operators should be trained for must include:

• Surface conditions where the vehicle will be operated;
• Composition of loads to be carried and load stability;
• Pedestrian traffic in areas where the vehicle will be operated;
• Narrow aisles and other restricted places where the vehicle will be operated;
• Hazardous (classified) locations where the vehicle will be operated;
• Ramps and other sloped surfaces that could affect the vehicle's stability;
• Closed environments and other areas where insufficient ventilation or poor vehicle maintenance could cause a buildup of carbon monoxide or diesel exhaust; and
• Other unique or potentially hazardous environmental conditions in the workplace that could affect safe operation.

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