Forklift Training-What's Being Left Out?

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


"OSHA has a formal training program in mind," notes Judy Smithers, an OSHA requirements specialist at J.J. Keller & Associates, a Neenah, WI publisher of guidance materials for employers on how to comply with OSHA. "A lot of employers would rather take the easy way out. They buy a training program off the shelf and sit somebody down in front of a computer. Then they say: 'Okay, now John is going to show you how to drive the truck' and that's the end of it."

"When they take our train the trainer class we find that they know the regulations but they don't realize the evaluation is a separate thing," says Wayne Wilde, director of service and technical publications for Nissan Forklift Corp., Marengo, IL. "There's a workplace evaluation. They're evaluating the guy on the class of forklift that he's going to be operating, but they're not evaluating him in his work site."

Wilde emphasizes that trainers should be talking about specifics around the production area, where separate issues might come up. "Say they're working on the dock area but then they have to go to the production area," says Wilde. "There might be certain hazards there such as low-hanging pipes, extra pedestrians or product that they shouldn't run by. They're not learning about specific work conditions that they should be aware of."

Addressing The Problem

J.J. Keller's Smithers suggests that for a company to put together an effective training program they have to take a look how they're using the trucks in the workplace and what types of potential situations operators might be confronted with. The company should focus the training content on that.

"Somebody at that work site has to do the on-site training focused on what the specific working conditions and hazards are," agrees Nissan's Wilde. "What are the speed limits? Are there any pedestrian areas? You have to say to them: 'in this area, watch out for wet floors.'"

Other hazards might include narrow aisle ways, piles of parts that may be dumped on the side and are spilling into aisles, hazardous locations an operator may pass through on the way to picking up or delivering materials, such as flammable spraying operations and so forth.

"They also need to have a very good grasp of what the flow of material at their workplace will be," adds OSHA's Kapust. "They need to be trained to follow that flow. It's as basic as saying: 'the delivery trucks come to this dock and we unload over here, we store our raw materials there and this is where the final product ends up.'"
Matt Hays of Hays' Food, agrees on informing operators about materials flow. He says it is also important that you include them as part of that flow. "It's very important for operator safety that you stage everything a day prior. Stage your loads so you're not trying to load fifty trucks at one time. That way, you won't have 20 forklifts out on the dock trying to move around and banging into each other."

"The employer, with their basic knowledge of the flow of materials within their facility, as well as the manufacturing process, is going to be the major determinate of what topics need to be covered," adds Kapust.

Another part of lift truck safety training that companies might be neglecting relates to the types of materials that employees may actually be asked to handle. As previously noted, companies are specifically required to train operators on whatever it is they'll be picking up.

According to Nissan's Wilde: "They've got to say to the operators: 'okay, we've got this hazardous material that comes in once a month and this is how you handle it-you reduce speed, the pallet is straight, the work center is centered and the forks are all the way back. It causes the floor to get wet because it's sweating until we get it to the production area, so watch out for slippery floors.'"

"A lot of folks do walk-arounds," says OSHA's Kapust. "It helps them identify what kinds of hazards their operators need to be aware of. They're able to find holes in the floors, that sort of thing."

Dave Piasecki, of Inventory Operations Consulting, a Kenosha, WI-based company that assists manufacturers and distributors in warehouse operations, agrees. "It comes down to proper monitoring and supervision to identify the new hazard and make sure the operators are trained for it."

He suggests that workers also need to be trained to stop and check with their supervisor if they encounter a condition they have not been trained for.

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