Lift trucks are only as safe and productive as their operators. Effective driver training programs are critical to ensuring your drivers are competent to safely operate a forklift and that your distribution center is legally compliant. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations specify what topics driver training programs must cover while packaged training programs, dealers and third-party consultants and in-house instructional programs provide such instruction. But how do you determine which of these sources offers a sound program? Here are some pointers.
Check credentials. Make sure a trainer is qualified both on paper and has experience before contracting with an outside firm. Ensure that the trainers are certified. Many trainers have earned their certifications through trainer certification programs offered by major lift truck manufacturers and third-party training organizations. Be wary of one-size-fits-all training programs as OSHA rules require training to be specific to the vehicle and to the application, something a one-size-fits-all program would be unlikely to meet.
Require a site visit. Developing a specific client training program requires a site visit since operation conditions vary significantly. Only when a trainer talks with the customer can he gain a full understanding of the issues and obstacles that need to be considered. When a trainer visits your site he can also gather fleet composition data, the shift it operates, and current operator qualifications. Such specific knowledge empowers trainers to design a program that addresses a customer’s specific needs. Often individual vehicle classification courses are offered since operators must be specifically trained for the manufacturer and the machine because each machine has its own application and capacity.
Look for a thorough program. Your lift truck operators should learn far more than just starting, driving, steering, and manipulating forklifts. Effective programs should also cover an overview of OSHA regulations, daily inspections, pre-shift inspections, training on inclines and ramps, operating in hazardous environments, loading and unloading, fuel handling and storage, battery safety and handling, stacking and manipulating loads, safe storage of material, negotiating sharp turns, and pedestrian traffic.
Classroom instruction. Depending on operation requirements, class size and operator experience, classroom instruction can vary from a few hours to a full day. Trainers should use a wide variety of media including printed material, safety videos, PowerPoint presentations and lectures. Classes should begin with basic concepts like the dangers of speeding, awareness of pedestrians and safe load handling before moving on to accident prevention, driving skills, fueling and charging, truck inspection, the dangers of complacency and dock hazards.
Hands-on training. Safe load handling and maneuvering can only be learned on the equipment. Trainees should observe an experienced person first before practicing on their own. Hands-on training can be conducted off site or after hours in a relatively quiet portion of an active distribution center. There’s no substitute for doing it in the work environment and it’s crucial that your employees receive training on the specific brand of truck they’ll operate. Assuming that you can drive a Crown truck, if you drive a Raymond truck is naïve. Not only does the make and type of truck matter, but the model matters too. Within brands, upgraded and new models of existing trucks require vehicle-specific training.
Evaluate Your Operators. It’s important to evaluate each operator’s skills and skill level. An evaluator who is forthcoming about whether or not a lift truck operator is up to the job can make the difference between life and death situations. Remember that while professional trainers offer all components of training programs, certification is up to the employer.
Train pedestrians. People who work around lift trucks but do not operate them also face hazards and for this reason safety training is important for all employees working in distribution centers, especially busy ones. To reduce the risk of accidents and pedestrian injuries, look for special safety training for these employees as well.
For the full OSHA standards, refer to document 1910.178 Powered Industrial Trucks. Training is addressed in the first paragraph.