Taking Lift Truck Certification Seriously

by David Hoover, president, Forklift Training Systems Inc.

Since entering the material handling industry in 1991, I have been concerned about how seriously we really take lift truck certification. If you look at things worth achieving in life, most require work, patience, time and some level of competency to achieve. I watched a show not long ago about the U.S. Navy Seal training program; it stated that about 75 percent of the trainees could not successfully complete the training due to its demanding requirements. Other programs, such as obtaining an airline pilot’s license or a commercial driver’s license, also require substantial work and knowledge, and not everyone can meet the requirements to obtain one.

Even with recent updates to training requirements across the world, I still question whether those charged with training lift truck operators really take the job as seriously as they should. Periodically, I audit other training programs and see people with little or no lift truck experience successfully completing programs and being turned loose to operate a lift truck with no supervision. Many times the driving test amounts to no more than moving some empty pallets around in a parking lot or weaving through a course at a lift truck dealership. Most written tests consist of 15 or fewer questions that the average 10-year-old could easily pass. Would we turn our children loose in an automobile with only an hour or two of practice, or allow someone to fly a plane by simply spending some time in a simulator? We all know that we would not do those things.

End users must start putting tougher pass or fail criteria in place that weed out weak operators for more training prior to certification. When my company conducts hands on evaluations we expect the trainees to be able to handle substantially heavy loads and stack as high as they would be expected to in real life. Depending on the application, we might also require them to load a trailer, use attachments, negotiate a ramp, etc. I always tell our trainers that when in doubt I would rather have them hold someone back that “might” be ready vs. going ahead and giving them the stamp of approval.

Third-party trainers, such as consultants or lift truck dealers, also have another pressure. Many end users expect that paying for a person to be trained ensures that they will in fact pass the course. We tell customers up front that some operators may not pass and will need additional supervised practice. I was once told by a customer “You need to understand that everyone must pass your course,” to which I replied “You may have hired the wrong company since I can not guarantee they will all pass.” They finally came around to our way of thinking, but it was not an easy battle. Don’t look for someone such as OSHA to come out with specific pass or fail criteria; it is our job as trainers to make those judgments. There is no guarantee that even well-trained operators will not have an accident some time, but at least you can be comfortable knowing that you did your part to ensure they were properly trained and qualified.

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