Forklift Center October 19, 2016 No Comments

How Should Trainers be Trained

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.

Impartial Trainers

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.

Forklift Center June 29, 2016 No Comments

When it comes to forklift safety, don’t spare the rod!

When I first started to train, 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.

Article published by Forklift Safety Solutions. Visit them on the web at www.forkliftcenter.net.

Forklift Center May 7, 2016 No Comments

FORKLIFT TRAINER QUALIFICATIONS

The subject of who should be teaching the safe operation of forklifts has always been a hot one.  Before the forklift standard (OSHA 29CFR1910.178) was revised in 1998, OSHA was silent on the issue of forklift trainer’s qualifications.  The revised standard added section (l)(2)(iii) “All operator training and evaluation shall be conducted by persons who have the knowledge, training, and experience to train powered industrial truck operators and evaluate their competence.”  It stills seems a bit vague, but it is much better than nothing.  What if we applied these types of criteria to airline pilots and their trainers, would the skies be safe?  Would you want your family flying to their vacation destination on a plane with a pilot who was trained by a trainer with very vague qualification requirements?  The answer is almost certainly “no” and that is why there are very strict criteria for pilot trainers in aviation.

We should expect professionalism and sufficient levels of experience from forklift trainers in order to produce safe and operational forklift operators.  Many people selling forklift trainer’s materials make the argument that no one needs to attend a formal trainer’s class.  They say that anyone can be a forklift trainer if they’ve ever driven a forklift or if they have spent any time around them, which is just crazy.  OSHA does give some further explanation in the Federal Register which states “An example of a qualified trainer would be a person who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training, and experience has demonstrated the ability to train and evaluate powered industrial truck operators.”

We have trained many forklift trainers and usually find that they either come from the operations side of things and have lots of forklift experience, but very little exposure to OSHA/safety issues; or just the opposite, they have come from the safety ranks and have little practical forklift operation experience.  The challenge in training forklift trainers is to take both groups and give each of them what they need to succeed.  Good quality, up to date materials are important in conducting good forklift training, but the most critical element is the quality of the forklift trainer.  The job of forklift trainer takes a total commitment to quality, patience, enthusiasm, skill, and a high value for the lives of others.  The job qualifications closely match those of athletic sports coaches because forklift trainers really are coaches in an industrial setting, imparting knowledge and encouraging their trainees to be the best they can be.

Trainers need to be more than DVD inserters.  Great trainer’s programs assign advance work to the trainees and they make them earn their credentials vs. simply showing up and getting a piece of paper that says they attended.  The class should help trainer’s improve their knowledge, teach with passion, identify and fix workplace hazards and remind operators the real reasons they should want to help others work safe.

Forklift Center April 19, 2016 No Comments

MATERIAL HANDLING HAZARDS IN THE WORKPLACE

Prior to conducting ALL on site forklift training classes, our company conducts a site inspection which looks at the customer’s forklifts, application, loads and many other areas.  We also make general observations and recommendations, as well as asking some tough questions, such as “do your people really wear their seat-belts and chock trailer wheels?”  In many cases, we hear “no they don’t do those things very often” or “we don’t even have seat-belts and chocks.”

This brings up an interesting issue.  Even with good training, how safe can our workplace be with serious material handling hazards being present and not dealt with?  In the U.S., OSHA would like to see workplace hazards eliminated through engineering means, if possible.  This is possible in many cases, such as reworking a steep ramp into a less dangerous grade and providing better traction.  In other cases, hazards may not be able to be totally eliminated, but can be identified and dealt with through training and recognition.  An example of this might be adding warning signs, convex mirrors or other warning devices into areas where forklifts and people will be sharing space; since in many cases it may be impossible to keep them completely separated.

One recommendation for end users and suppliers of training is to identify and correct material-handling hazards first, and then conduct training to reinforce the changes.  Doing training without first correcting the hazards sends a conflicting message to your people.  It effectively says, “We don’t want you to do it this way, but for now that is the best we can do.”  Examples of some common material handling hazards include:

  • Poor floor or lot conditions
  • Loads beyond the rated capacity of the forklifts
  • Missing or non-functioning safety devices such as horns, seat-belts, alarms and strobes
  • Poorly stacked or stored loads and structurally damaged storage rack
  • Damaged or broken pallets
  • Lack of proper pre-shift checks and preventative maintenance
  • Lack of enforcement for any type of safety issues

Correcting hazards is like curing a disease versus providing minor first aide.  Even though the first aide may make you feel better for a while, the disease will keep reappearing if you don’t take the proper steps to cure it for good.

Forklift Center March 27, 2016 No Comments

Have You Personally Checked Out Your Forklift Training Program Lately?

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.  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 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?