Monday, October 4, 2010

Is Your Forklift Program Lifting Its Own Weight?

Forklifts and other Powered Industrial Trucks are vital to industry in the United States. We rely on this equipment to lift, stack, tier, pull, and push material in a wide variety of applications. Just as we maintain the equipment itself, we must also remember to maintain the operators. While a forklift is a valuable tool when used properly, just like an automobile, it can be a deadly tool when used improperly.
Forklift accidents account for about 95,000 injuries and about 100 workplace fatalities each year; an appalling figure. Many of these incidents can be traced to operators with inadequate training. OSHA requires in 29 CFR 1910.178 that operators receive training and certification at least every three years in order to remain proficient. Awareness of this requirement is usually not a problem in large warehousing facilities, but smaller operations that have only one or two forklifts that may not even get used every day sometimes are unaware of the standard.
Some operations have a great enough need for certifications that they maintain an in-house trainer to handle certifications as needed. For other operations, that may not be practical. Private safety trainers and consultants should be able to provide this service, or the equipment supplier may be able to help arrange training.
The training must include several elements to fulfill the requirements of the standard. To begin with, it must be conducted by a qualified trainer. If the trainer is unsure of the requirements and proper operating procedures, then the students may not get the best investment of their time. The training must also include a classroom portion with a written test. This is the opportunity for the trainer to personalize the training to address the needs and unique hazards that are present at each worksite. This should include a discussion of the particular operation, as well as a discussion of the particular equipment that the workers will use onsite. The written test is useful to evaluate comprehension of the material. Keep in mind, that if workers are present who do not speak English, a trainer should be chosen who can effectively communicate in their native language. This includes having written tests that are translated as well. We want to avoid the scenario where workers who do not understand the presentation sit in the back and nod their heads because they are too afraid to let someone know they do not speak the language.
After the classroom portion of the training is over, it is time to perform the practical evaluation of the participant’s skill. They need to drive the forklift. An evaluation should be set up by the instructor that will allow her to observe the trainees go through a series of maneuvers to demonstrate their efficiency. There is no required set of motions, but each operator should have to perform motions similar to the ones they will use in the performance of duties. Observing their familiarity with the equipment, lifting, steering, braking, adjusting forks, etc., should all be a part of this section.
After the instructor is satisfied with the operators’ performances, a certification may be issued that lasts for a maximum of three years. After that time, a complete recertification must occur. A separate certification should be issued for each type of equipment the operator uses, and a separate practical evaluation performed for each type, also.
Retraining may be required if new equipment or new hazards are introduced that affect forklift operations. Retraining may also be needed if operators show that they are unable, or unwilling, to follow safe operating procedures.
Proper forklift operator certification is required under the OSHA Performance Standard, and the training is not difficult to come by. With a little involvement by the employer, and the employee, the workplace can be made that much safer, which is our ultimate goal!


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