Just because you got your forklift license doesn’t automatically make you a pro driver. The driving test was only meant to certify your skills, while the real test starts once you handle the machine. Each day brings an opportunity to learn something new and avoid previous mistakes, and a certified forklift trainer can ensure you do just that. At Forklift Training Systems, we have gathered the following tips and tricks that might help upgrade your skills and enhance your learning experience with the forklift.Read more
When you are preparing to travel by air it may be comforting to know that your pilot has hundreds of hours in training and thousands of flight hours logged. When you sign the release to have major surgery, you also would expect your surgeon to have undergone years of training and have thousands of operations under their belt.
Now enter the world of forklift training. How would you feel if your son or daughter were trained to operate a forklift by someone that had never driven a forklift themselves, someone that trains once every few years or by a trainer with less than one day of formal instruction? Although things have gotten better since I entered the industry in 1991, there is a lot of room for improvement with regard to how we train forklift trainers. Rather than get into a fight with others in the industry over the meaning of words like training, certification, Train-the-Trainer, knowledge, education, experience, and others, I would like to address what I consider to be the real issue.
You will need to ask yourself the following questions: Does the trainer have a solid understanding of all the standards involved? Can they actually operate the equipment on which they are training? Are they skilled enough to spot and fix safety problems? Are they able to deliver a coherent presentation which keeps people involved? Are they fully committed to safety? Are they enforcing what they train, and are they having an impact in their workplace?
Here are some problems I see in our industry:
Anyone can be a forklift trainer
Since OSHA is pretty vague on the trainer’s requirements, almost anyone can be a forklift trainer with a little charisma. This is a problem for obvious reasons and also because a forklift dealership or end user with a sub standard trainer can cost them millions in a lawsuit and put their customers or operators at risk. There are some great trainers out there, but unfortunately there are many more which are poorly trained, receive little ongoing support and who are just not getting the job done. Trainers who don’t know the standards well, who train on equipment beyond their expertise, who take shortcuts during operator training and those who walk by operators violating the rules, saying nothing, are a real problem. If you give me a good trainer candidate with the right background, experience and motivation; I can turn them into a solid trainer, but without those basics they will not be successful. Trainers need to be carefully selected for the traits they possess; picking just anyone that has the time or who knows how to operate a forklift would be a real mistake, regardless of whether OSHA would issue a citation or not.
Bad Trainer Training
Back to the airline pilot or doctor, do you want the one that had the bare minimum “quickie” training or the guy who took the time to master the craft? Some companies promote “do it yourself kits” or trainers classes that are little more than a partial day of classroom instruction. It would take a good training company that long to complete an operator training program, no less educating a trainer, who has no three year re-evaluation requirement like forklift operators, and who might train operators for decades with no additional instruction. Self study is possible, but most folks are not willing to put in the amount of work needed to do it correctly and completely. Cheap and fast might be great if you are looking for a budget haircut, but if you are training a trainer, quality is much more important.
I talked to a dealer trainer last year who trains hundreds, if not thousands of operators each year that said only a few fail his course. Forklift operator training need not have the failure rate of a Navy seal trainee (about 75%), but we typically see about a 3-5% rate over time due to all kinds of issues. The trainer’s job is as much to refrain from certifying unqualified operators as it is to certify those who are qualified, maybe even more so. The trainer is the last line of defense to ensure someone who is not qualified is not put on a forklift. They need to take that job very seriously. Trainers who can’t be impartial because of pressure to pass operators or because a customer expects everyone to pass should not be trainers. Likewise, end user trainers who can’t honestly evaluate their coworkers present a similar problem situation.
Up to Date Trainers
One lesson I have learned from golf is that you must practice regularly for your skills to stay sharp. If you play golf once a year, how sharp is your play going to be? If you play multiple times a week, how sharp will you be? The same can be said for forklift trainers; you either use it or you lose it. Many end users suffer this problem if they don’t have huge numbers of operators, and even some dealerships don’t get their trainers enough reps to stay well oiled and current.
The moral of this story is to look deeper than the letter of the law and see if your trainer really knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way or if they are just going through the motions to achieve minimum compliance.
The U.S. has a serious problem; one that is likely causing more deaths, injuries and damage than need to occur. We get calls every week from individuals who have never driven a forklift and who want to get a job driving one. Forklift jobs typically pay several dollars per hour more, which adds up to thousands of dollars over a typical year. For someone that is just “getting by,” a few thousand more can make a huge difference in their lives and in the lives of their families.
You might ask, “What’s the problem,” send them down to the local forklift dealer for “the generic class.” OSHA now requires training to be site and lift specific; which means a trainer needs to know what they will be operating, under what type of conditions, etc. If they don’t know these factors and can’t test them on the exact lift, or at least the same type, then providing training to that person is impractical because it may not be what they really need. For someone that has never driven a forklift, taking a class of a few hours and then spending 5-10 minutes of hands on time creates a problem. If the person worked for a company that had forklifts, then their company could provide them “practice operation” and get them up to speed; which is permissible according to the OSHA standard. Those without a company, or working at a company that will not spend the time to work with them, don’t have the practice operation luxury; they must try and “buy” their training and hands on experience. Potential employers, many of which don’t know what is required for training, accept just about any card a person can produce, which is also a problem.
You can log onto the internet today and obtain a permit to drive a forklift in a fairly short amount of time, maybe without even completing the hands on portion. How valuable is this type of training and the card you get with it? It has little or no value, but it provides a piece of paper which potential employers are looking for and may get a person a job they are not qualified to perform, which puts everyone in danger. Where individuals and companies are mistaken is that the paper means nothing without the skills and experience to back it up. It is better to have significant experience and no card to prove it, than have a current card and nothing to back it up, since sooner or later you must prove your skills on the forklift. Our recommendation to companies, is that you check out a forklift train the trainer program which allows your employees to be trained as trainers, so that they can teach new operators that get hired. This is of course at your site, on your equipment, so you will be adhering to OSHA’s guidelines.
There are tons of forklift training centers across the U.S., but how many of them are equipped to take in people that have never been on a lift and shape them into forklift operators? You might ask, “how much time is needed to get someone up to speed?” I would guess each trainer would have their own opinions and they might run from less than a day to over a month. In my opinion, if you could spend the better part of a work week with a small group of new people, you could get them to perform most typical operations on one or even several types of forklifts. Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not trying to be critical of any company or any trainer because I don’t have the solution to the problem either. The logistics, capital investment, time commitments and liability to pull off this type of training is huge, but we have to find a better way than what is currently available for folks to obtain knowledge and skills.
When I first became a forklift trainer, I thought that if a company saw one of their forklift operators violating forklift safety policies, they should stop them and discuss why they should work safely. The conversation I was envisioning might have gone something like this: “Hey John, I noticed you are not wearing your seat-belt. We would really like to see you wear it to protect yourself and your family, it is very important, have a good day.” While there is nothing wrong with that approach, the years have hardened me a bit, as has working with people and families that have been torn apart by tragic forklift accidents.
These may sound callous, but here are some facts to keep in mind while dealing with issues of forklift safety:
- We are dealing with adults, not children. When you tell a child something, they may not understand the consequences of non-compliance, or they may just choose not to follow them. Adults do understand what they are told, and if training is done correctly they will fully understand the potential consequences of non-compliance. Lastly, not following the rules is NOT AN OPTION for employees. If they expect to collect their paycheck, they should expect to “toe the line” from a safety standpoint. If they don’t want to follow the rules, then they should start their own company with their own rules or find a company that has no rules.
- There is no need to “dance around” the issue of confronting people for violating safety policies. As supervisors and trainers that IS OUR JOB. Like it or not, confronting safety violations and fixing problems is part of the job, maybe not a pleasant part, but one of the most important parts. When parents don’t address problems with their kids, we know what can happen. They can end up on drugs, in trouble with the law, or with no respect for authority. When companies do the same we know what happens; non-compliance, accidents, injuries, unsafe situations, and no accountability.
- Although we should not be disrespectful or rude when dealing with anyone, we need to cut to the chase and be sure people are getting our message. At the beginning of this article, I talked about how I used to think a conversation should go, now let me define how I would do it today on a first offense. “Hey John, I see you are not wearing your seat-belt. You know we covered this in training and that it is a rule at our company to wear it. I need to have you put it on now and we expect you to wear it each and every time you are operating the forklift. It is the number one killer of operators and we don’t want something to happen to you. I will write you up a warning this time and put it in your file, but if it happens again it will involve time off from work. Are we clear on what needs to happen from here on out?”
One company we work with repeatedly and nicely warned operators for a set period of time on seat-belt use. They had experienced a fatal accident at a “sister plant” during a forklift tip over and made seat-belt use and a few other items “cardinal safety rules”, which result in immediate termination of employment for offenders. A few days after the warning period ended, a 20 year veteran was caught testing the policy and was let go. This company runs 24/7 operations with large numbers of forklifts and I have not seen seat-belt non-compliance again in many years. No matter how hard the lesson was, the message got across and their facility was much safer as a result.
In summary, put some “teeth and muscle” behind your enforcement of forklift safety issues. When people understand the company is dead serious about something, they usually comply fairly quickly. If they perceive any hesitation or relaxed enforcement, they will test you to the end of your patience. Set the rules and then enforce them with a vengeance, knowing that you are protecting workers and their families by doing so.
In the recent past, I attended several local competitors’ operator training classes. I had hoped to pick up some good training tips, see the content of each class, and learn about any weaknesses that might assist me if we went head to head for a customer. Seeing how the trainers conducted classes and how they might have benefited from a forklift train the trainer class was something to keep in mind. I would guess that not many trainers have attended their competitor’s classes, but I found it very enlightening.
I picked three programs at random to audit, but all were offered by dealerships representing major brands of forklifts. On the positive side, I did find some interesting statistics in several classes and got some ideas for a few new slides to add to our training. It was also interesting to watch how each trainer interacted with the classes, the questions they asked, props they used, and other techniques.
On the less positive side, I was fairly shocked to see how some of these forklift training programs were operating. Their downfalls are common and are worth noting for the benefit of our industry as a whole. Listed below are some of the things I witnessed as I attended the three classes, though not every problem was present in each program.
- One instructor started conducting a re-evaluation class, which was actually promoted as a certification class. When he found out a few operators had not be previously certified, and that one had never been on a forklift in his life, he continued on with the same exact PowerPoint program saying he could cover all the topics they would likely need. The class claimed to cover type 1-6 forklifts in 2 hours of classroom time.
- In one class, I met an operator that had never driven a forklift in his life and struggled with the written test in English. I will never know how he did since he was asked to grade his own test during the classroom portion! During the hands on portion, he was put on a forklift with no practice and promptly collapsed some shelving during his evaluation. Hands shaking, he parked the lift and the instructor told him he passed and would get his certification in the mail. Afterward, I asked about the operator’s performance and the instructor told me that he had only failed a handful of people in over three years of being a full time trainer.
- One instructor made the comment “this is not a pass or fail thing, it’s just training. I’m not here to make the call whether you pass or fail.” He followed that up by giving the class a 40 question test. Eleven of those questions were graded, but the other 29 he gave out the answers to without having the class even attempt to answer them on their own! The final passing score reflected the total of 40 questions, not just the 11 that were legitimate.
- All three classes conducted the hands on portion at their dealerships and then issued certification cards to every student, which is NOT OSHA COMPLIANT. Only one instructor noted that the evaluations would have to be done again in the actual workplace and on their own forklifts. No paperwork was issued stating that the hands on evaluations needed to be done at the end users site and on their forklifts; therefore, the employers would assume, incorrectly and unfortunately for them, that the training was complete. OSHA very clearly states in CPL 2-1.28A – Compliance Assistance for the Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training Standards: Can the evaluation required by (l)(2)(ii) be based entirely on observation of the operator in a training facility outside the workplace? The evaluation must take place in the workplace so that the evaluator can observe the operator under actual workplace conditions.
In summary, I thought training had come a lot further in the last 20 years, but I was very disappointed in some of what I encountered during these classes. I would suggest that if you manage a forklift dealership or safety training company that you stay in touch with what is happening at a grass roots level. Take your own classes once in a while, see what is happening, and make sure your company is at least meeting the bare minimum OSHA forklift requirements, if not more. Ask yourself, is this the type of training you would want for your son or daughter if they were learning to operate a 10,000 pound machine?