Stickers on Your Lift Trucks?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) wants to put a sticker on each of your lift trucks. Aha! you say. Something like: The operator of this vehicle has met the requirements of the Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training standard.

Not exactly. Instead, the stickers carry the message: No operators under 18 years of age. It’s the law.

The sticker was designed by people in OSHA’s Wage and Hour Division, along with folks from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health; how much they know about lift truck operation is questionable.

The under-18 population doesn’t operate lift trucks for the big companies, speculates Jim Shephard, president of the training organization that bears his name. He sees underage operators mostly in mom-and-pop companies in, say, the forest products industry — and they pretty much ignore anything that OSHA has to say anyhow. This viewpoint is supported by figures from the Bureau of Labor Standards Census. A BLS report reads: “Although the number of occupational fatalities is small, a sizable proportion has occurred either in agriculture or among those working in family businesses.”

A sticker of any kind on a lift truck just encourages litigation of some sort, so I predict that most companies will pass on OSHA’s offer.

While OSHA was busy designing a sticker for lift trucks, the seatbelt proposal by Richard E. Fairfax, director of the Directorate of Enforcement Programs for OSHA, has gone nowhere. By nowhere, I mean that nobody has heard anything from Fairfax at all.

Which isn’t fair to the users of seat belts, because last September Fairfax rattled the lift truck industry by proposing that seat belt use be limited to “a condition or practice in the workplace [that] presents a hazard to employees.” He proceeded to discuss only the likelihood of tipover and ignored the hazards of, say, collision.

Maybe Fairfax realized that his proposal was a bad idea — which it was — and would go away if he ignored it. Hence the silence.

Meanwhile, the Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training standard is being taken seriously by some companies, with surprising results. Reports Jim Shephard: “Now I see more incidents of non-compliance, and not because the guy wasn’t trained. The operator was doing something he wasn’t supposed to, like picking up too much weight, or not paying attention to where he was driving — things like that.

“He’s been trained; he knows better. But he’s doing something that isn’t in compliance with the way he’s been trained.”

In short, training according to the standard isn’t the final goal. “A lot of our work right now is helping companies improve their existing conditions,” Shephard says. “They’ve done a good job bringing awareness to employees. Now they figure it’s time to take training to another level. They’re raising the expectations bar. That’s the next level of improvement.”

According to Shephard, companies are satisfied with the operator safety aspect of the standard. But they’re not getting the improvements in lift truck maintenance or material handling they expect. Their reaction: “About half of our clients are putting their supervisors through the training program. That’s encouraging.”

And it’s better than designing a sticker to put on a lift truck.

Bernie Knill, contributing editor [email protected]

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