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Back to Basics: Lift Truck Operator Training - Mandatory and Necessary

Aug. 14, 2013
Besides being the law, lift truck operator training also reduces accidents, improves morale, reduces damage, minimizes repairs and increases productivity.

It has been a federal law since 1969 that all operators be trained and evaluated prior to operating a lift truck. In 1999, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its requirements to include specific subject areas that must be covered during training. And although these training procedures are federally mandated, the responsibility of ensuring each employee is trained is that of the employer and often is undertaken by the facility or safety manager.

Lift truck training programs often require dynamic and proactive elements to ensure operators fully understand the responsibilities and obligations of operating a material handling vehicle. That means it is important for the operator to not only understand the technical aspects of lift truck operation, which can be conveyed in a classroom, but also to receive hands-on training and evaluation. 

A training program should also be aligned with company policies and supported, promoted and reinforced by management to ensure proper lift truck operation. The program should be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect changes in the workplace. Every workplace is different, so training must be customized to the actual conditions the operator will experience and pertinent to the trucks the operator will use.

For Veterans and Newbies 

Both new lift truck operators and employees who may have been trained at another company require training by their current employer. According to OSHA, when a company hires an experienced lift truck operator, the company must still evaluate this person to ensure that the previous training was appropriate for his or her new environment. 

OSHA does say that "if the operator has operated the same type of equipment before in the same type of environment that he/she will be expected to be working, then duplicative or additional training is not required." If the operator is found to be competent in most areas but may need updates on some specific areas of training, refresher training is an option that will avoid covering topics the employee is already familiar with. In addition, refresher training will ensure that any previously trained employees have received updated training on aspects of lift truck operation that are pertinent to his or her new work environment.

OSHA mandates that all lift truck operators be re-evaluated and recertified at least once every three years. It is important for managers to know that evaluation and certification for both new and experienced employees is the responsibility of the employer. 

Skill assessment includes observation of the employee operating the lift truck, administration of a written test or a performance test in the warehouse and written documentation of previous training that meets the employer's requirements. An employer must require refresher training for any operator who is not meeting performance standards for lift truck operation. 

Time for Refreshment

According to OSHA, situations where employers must call for refresher training include those where an operator has been observed to operate a lift truck in an unsafe manner, has been involved in an accident or near-accident, has received an evaluation that indicates the operator is not operating the truck safely or has been assigned to a different type of truck. In addition, changes in workplace conditions that could affect safe lift truck operation require refresher training.

Operators re-assigned to a different class of lift truck and those whose work area, such as rack configuration, has been changed also should receive refresher training. In addition, operator training is required by the operator for the trucks specific to the certain environment. Therefore, if an operator is re-assigned to a counterbalanced lift truck from a reach-truck, training should cover counterbalanced truck-specific information. 

Refresher training can include tools such as lectures, videos, discussions, demonstrations or interactive computer education.  Remember, if training is not conducted, or isn't adequate or properly documented, OSHA can levy fines—but a worse consequence is improper lift truck operations.

Jeff Leggett is manager of the Raymond dealer education department, The Raymond Corporation (

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