PITOT's Progress, OSHA Style

The big boys have listened up to industrial truck training. The little guys are another story altogether.

PITOT’s Progress, OSHA Style

The Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training (PITOT) standard, 29 CFR 190.178, was promulgated in 1999 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and is just now starting to show results.

That’s about right for the OSHA standards-writing process: The standard has been promulgated, a compliance directive has been issued, and now we’re in the never-ending process of getting companies to comply.

There’s a good news/bad news aspect to PITOT. The good news is that some big companies have had lift truck operator training programs long before PITOT came on the scene. In this case, the Bush administration is correct in the belief that the private sector works best with a minimum of government interference.

The bad news is that many smaller companies paid little attention to the 1969 OSHA standard that preceded PITOT: “Only trained and authorized operators shall be permitted to operate a powered industrial truck. Methods shall be devised to train operators in the safe operation of powered industrial trucks” was all it said.

So a company owner might figure that telling one operator to train another was good enough. In this case, Bill Samuel, legislative director of the AFL/CIO, had it right when the told The Plain Dealer: “Leaving compliance to the discretion of employers has proven not to work.”

What are some of the signs that PITOT is becoming effective?

First, compliance with the lesser-known provisions of the standard. For example, PITOT mandates that operators receive training in operations that have “pedestrian traffic in areas where the vehicle will be operated.” According to Rob Medlock, OSHA’s Cleveland-area director, his office experienced four or five accidents in about three years before PITOT. Most of the accidents were the “struck by” type — pedestrians hit by lift trucks. Since PITOT, there have been no “struck by” accidents, says Medlock, and the accident level involving lift trucks has slowed in the Cleveland area. “It seems that now everybody has some semblance of a training program. Now that we have a standard, citations are different in that most employees, even if they have received a citation, have had some training, but not enough,” he says.

The point is that a standard like PITOT generates a safety mindset that goes beyond memorizing rules. A trained lift truck operator is alert to the possibility of pedestrians crossing his route, or even being able to address some condition that isn’t spelled out in the regulation.

The White House budget for 2003 fails to acknowledge the total impact of OSHA regulations. According to The Plain Dealer, “The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cannot keep up with the number of factories and offices in the United States anyway, the budget says.” The statement’s objection that an OSHA enforcement officer “can reach every workplace only once every 167 years” ignores the scope of an OSHA regulation.

Rob Medlock’s opinion that PITOT has caused “most employers to step up their level of training” is reinforced by Jim Shephard, president of Shephard’s Industrial Training Systems Inc. (www.shephardsystems.com). “We still have big companies as clients, but, for the first time in this organization’s business, we have signed up a tremendous number of small companies,” he says. Since Shephard charges by the hour, the large company with many trucks and multiple plants will be billed much more than a small company with a single plant, a few trucks and limited operations.

How to certify a powered industrial truck operator is spelled out in the PITOT standard, but Shephard warns that certification and safety are not necessarily synonymous. He recalls clients whose operators were certified, but the same safety programs they had before training persisted afterward. And the Cleveland-area’s Rob Medlock notes that an operator training program must follow the PITOT standard to be acceptable.

According to The Plain Dealer, the White House budget for 2003 will be part of a seven percent reduction sought for the Labor Department. OSHA Administrator John Henshaw says he will “focus resources on activities that have the greatest impact on worker safety and health.”

PITOT falls into that category. Even though the standard was promulgated in 1999, the enforcement phase has just begun. Operator training can’t be returned to the non-enforcement days of the 1969 standard.

Bernie Knill, contributing editor, [email protected]

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