Do Your Operators Need Refresher Training?

June 1, 2009
Many different situations call for lift truck safety refresher training. Though OSHA requires operators to be evaluated every three years, the details are left up to the employer.

It's been more than a decade since OSHA mandated that all lift truck operators throughout the U.S. complete formal safety training. So, it's no surprise that lift truck safety programs have become standard operating procedure in material-moving environments.

Comprehensive lift truck safety programs from lift truck manufacturers have undoubtedly reduced accidents and injuries caused by unsafe lift truck practices. They have also helped to boost operator confidence, reduce product damage, minimize costly equipment repairs and increase overall lift truck uptime and productivity.

While most manufacturing facility and distribution center managers provide extensive, formalized programs for new hires, there are circumstances in which a full-blown regimen is not necessary. Refresher training is an option for existing employees who only need educational updates for certain aspects of lift truck operation. Brush-up programs target specific areas for improvement and assume an operator is competent in other aspects of lift truck operation.

Formal Evaluations

According to OSHA, employers must evaluate and recertify all lift truck operators — novices and veterans alike — at least once every three years. However, OSHA leaves the details up to the employer. Specific criteria that operators must meet for certification are not formally available, so the employer must use its own discretion to determine whether or not an employee is fully prepared to operate a lift truck in the facility.

An evaluation can involve discussing performance with operators; observing employees using the trucks; administering written or performance-based tests; or documenting previous training that meets current requirements.

Because employers are responsible for certifying their lift truck operators and documenting that the operators have been properly trained and evaluated on their performance, it is imperative that employers conduct thorough evaluations.

Some lift truck manufacturers offer appraisal checklists that list items to consider when determining whether a lift truck driver has been appropriately trained. These checklists include items that were covered in training sessions and then further practiced by the trainee. The checklist can serve as a guideline to help an employer document lift truck training and conduct a thorough evaluation of an operator's performance. Many lift truck dealers also conduct training sessions tailored to a company's specific needs.

According to OSHA, if an operator has been evaluated and determined to be competent on a specific topic that was previously taught, duplicate training is not required. Therefore, an evaluation should reveal the need for refresher training. Lectures, videos, demonstrations or practice sessions can all be used for refresher training.

Informal Red Flags

There are other signals that more education is needed, but certain red flags are rarely identified through formal evaluations. Simple observation is the best test. If an employee is seen violating safety policies or has been involved in an accident or near miss, the response from management should be obvious. The operator should be briefed on what went wrong to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

And, when a supervisor assigns a different class of lift truck to an operator, training must accompany that new assignment. For example, if an operator starts using a counterbalanced lift truck instead of an order picker, training should cover information specific to counterbalanced trucks.

Even changes to the work area — including rack configuration — may require safety-related educational updates.

New Hires and Temps

Importantly, new but experienced employees are not exempt from OSHA requirements. Even if an operator has been trained recently by his or her former employer, the hiring manager must still evaluate the new operator to ensure the previous training is appropriate for the new operational environment.

If the new operator is found to be competent in most areas but needs updates on some specific areas, then refresher training is an option that will avoid covering topics the employee already knows.

Companies also are responsible for training and evaluating temporary workers who will operate lift trucks. Even if operators are trained by the employment agency that refers them, it is still the responsibility of the employer to evaluate and certify the temporary employee. As with year-round staff, the employer must certify that temporary lift truck operators meet the company's specific training requirements and performance standards.

Training and evaluation of temporary workers must be properly documented to meet OSHA regulations. If training is not conducted, not adequate or not properly documented, the agency can levy hefty fines.

But preventing OSHA penalties should not be the only reason to take a second look at refresher training. Effective lift truck operator training minimizes downtime, increases productivity and ultimately benefits the company, its employees and its customers.

Rudy Cuevas is the corporate safety administrator for Associated Material Handling Industries Inc. in Addison, Ill., an authorized service center for the Raymond Corp.

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