Our forklift safety training guide will give you everything you need to identify hazards and common causes of incidents, evaluate your current safety training procedures and get you started developing your own safety training program.
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1. The Science Behind Forklift Operator Safety Training
Whether you’re a small company with only a few employees or a large corporation responsible for thousands of jobs, safety training represents a huge expense to employers.
It doesn’t just cost money, it takes time too. Training and evaluating your employees is enormously time consuming, so much so that you may have an entire department allocated to training. So why do we do it?
Your answers may range from “Because it’s required by OSHA”, to “Because we want to keep our employees safe whether they’re operators or pedestrians working near forklift operation.”
Either way, the good news is that all the time and money we spend on safety training will keep our personnel safer.
In 1984, a study was conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to determine the effectiveness of a lift truck safety training program. The results indicate that better training reduces operators’ errors.
According to OSHA as well as many other experts, when errors are reduced, accidents are reduced as well. Thus proper safety training is vitally important to our employees’ safety.
The trick is to provide the best possible safety training to your forklift operators and pedestrians. Lucky for you, we’re here to help!
2. Recognizing Major Hazards
If you’re new to safety training you may not realize just how many hazards are present in the workplace. Let’s start with some of the available data on fatalities and injuries related to forklifts.
Common Causes of Fatalities
A NIOSH study including 1,021 workers that died from injuries due to a forklift related incident concluded that the following four items were the most common causes of death.
- Vehicle overturn (22% of the victims)
- Pedestrian struck/run over by vehicle (20% of the victims)
- Victim crushed by forklift (16% of the victims)
- Fall from forklift (9% of the victims)
Common Causes of Forklift Accidents
The best way to prevent against these incidents is to inform both operators and pedestrians of the risks and instruct them on safe operating and travelling practices.
Read more on preventing common forklift accidents.
There are a multitude of workplace hazards that may affect your employees and they differ depending on the type of forklift and your application. For example a sit-down rider lifts loads much higher than a walkie pallet jack. Therefore the sit-down rider is more likely to be involved in an accident with a falling load. Likewise, pedestrians can be at greater risk in retail applications due to the high frequency of pedestrians working near forklift operation as well as the typical retail facility floor plan which does not allow for many barriers between forklift aisle and pedestrian aisles.
Regardless of your forklift type, your forklift operators and pedestrians should be aware of the hazards associated with your work site and application. To get you started, just a few of the hazards that may apply are examined below.
Often carrying a load results in an obstructed view for the operator but an obstructed view can also be caused by cross aisles and blind corners. Operators should drive backwards if their load is causing visibility issues.
Grades, Ramps or Inclines
Overturns can happen more easily when the lift truck is not on a flat surface. Operators should travel slowly on an incline. Pedestrians should not approach the forklift when it’s on an incline.
Many applications utilize special attachments however these attachments often change the capacity, stability and load center of the forklift. They can also reduce the operating clearance of the forklift (height or width). Operators should be aware of the changes these attachments may make to the forklift’s capabilities and respond appropriately.
Unstable loads can fall on pedestrians and operators. They can be caused by a load that is:
- Too heavy
- Too high
Loading docks are a universal hazard that affect virtually every application. If the trailer pulled up to the loading dock is not properly secured, both lift trucks and pedestrians could fall through. Proper loading dock procedure should be reviewed with every employee that works around them.
Walk through your facility and identify hazards that both operators and pedestrians will encounter during their daily activities. Any hazards that may affect your work site and application must be covered in your operator safety training as work site specific instruction. Let’s examine what else is required of your operator safety training.
3. Proper Forklift Operator Safety Training: According to OSHA
While we don’t spend time and money on training just because it’s mandated by OSHA, their requirements are exactly that: requirements. From training and evaluation to documentation, OSHA has a regulation for everything and we’ll lay out exactly what your operator safety training should include.
Generally, forklift operator training should cover:
- the types of lift trucks used in your specific work environment
- hazards created by the use of those vehicles
- general safety requirements (such as the pre-shift inspection)
- general principles of safe forklift operation
This training should be both lecture and practical instruction. According to OSHA standards, training can be provided by an outside consultant, however you – as the employer - must provide evidence of classroom and practical training. You’ll also have to confirm that your operators are competent and safe.
Evaluations and Refresher Training
Evaluations must be completed after the initial training to verify that employees have acquired the necessary knowledge to operate a forklift. Subsequent evaluations must be completed every three years after the initial training. These evaluations can be a discussion with the employee, written documentation of previous training, performance testing or simply observation of the employee. If the evaluation reveals that the employee operates the forklift in an unsafe manner, refresher training is needed.
Refresher training is also necessary if the employee was observed operating in an unsafe manner at any other time, was involved in an accident or a near-miss incident or was assigned to operate a different kind of lift truck. Changing conditions in the workplace which affect safe operation of the lift truck are also a reason to complete refresher training.
Evaluating Your Current Forklift Operator Safety Training
Take a hard look at your operator safety training. Are you providing your operators with the information and guidance they need to be competent, efficient and safe? Does your training include site-specific safety instruction? Are your operators trained on each type of industrial equipment they’ll be operating?
Ask yourself these questions as you evaluate your current training and take a look at the mistakes we often see in training programs.
Online Training Pitfalls
Some companies use online training sources that boast of 100 percent online training or guarantee certification in one hour. Be wary of these statements. OSHA standards clearly state that operator safety training must be both lecture and practical.
Purchasing cheap online training courses may save your company money in the short term. However, without supplementing these courses in the form of hands-on training, operators will not have the knowledge to safely operate their equipment. This leads to unsafe working conditions, accidents and liabilities which aren’t good for the bottom line or your company’s reputation.
Videos Are a Tool, Not the Whole Toolbox
Many training courses consist of short videos. These videos alone are not a complete source for forklift training. Not only does this method not meet OSHA requirements, but without work site specific information, unsafe operation could result in serious injury.
Instead, think of videos as a tool. They can certainly help demonstrate proper and improper operation. But they shouldn’t be the only way you train.
While online training may be easily accessible and a low cost alternative to in-person training, it isn’t necessarily the best way to ensure safe operation of forklifts in the workplace.
If purchasing online training courses is essential for your company there are many quality courses that can be purchased from reputable sources. Keep in mind that it is important to research the course thoroughly before relying on it to train your operators. Training your operators entirely from an online source is not a replacement for an experienced trainer that can provide site-specific information and hands-on operator safety training.
After their training and evaluation, operators must be certified by their employer. But what exactly does OSHA require for operator certification?
Certification Requirements For Forklift Operator Training
Understanding the proper documentation your employees should receive after they’ve completed a forklift or aerial lift operator training class can be tricky. According to OSHA regulations, it’s the employer’s responsibility to certify that their operators have been trained and evaluated in accordance with the OSHA standard. The certification must include:
- the operator’s name
- the training date
- the evaluation date
- the name of the person(s) performing the training or evaluation
Additionally, when you hire an outside consultant to perform your operator safety training, you have a shared responsibility for ensuring that your operators complete both classroom and practical training prior to your employees using any industrial equipment.
That means providing proper documentation and evidence that your employee completed their forklift operator training.
Unfortunately, OSHA doesn’t specify what the “proper documentation” or “evidence” should look like. So what separates the good documentation from the bad? If our years of experience have taught us one thing – it’s the type and quality of documentation your employees receive that can make all the difference during an audit.
See how we document forklift operator safety training.
After training, the employer still has a shared responsibility to certify that their operators are both competent and safe. Usually determining this takes place in the form of a hands-on evaluation similar to the evaluations administered every 3 years after training.
4. Pedestrian Safety Training
Whether you use an outside consultant or in-house trainers for your operator training, your safety program wouldn’t be complete without pedestrian training.
While pedestrians may have the right-of-way, around forklift operation there are no guarantees. In fact, 20 percent of forklift incidents involve pedestrians being struck by a forklift. This means pedestrians should be trained on safety protocols and to recognize the risks associated with forklifts.
Implementing a Pedestrian Protection Program
Pedestrian training is the tip of the iceberg in terms of pedestrian protections. In addition to training, we recommend you implement a pedestrian protection program.
This could begin with a traffic safety plan including proper forklift operating procedures, pedestrian guidelines and safety protocols. This will serve as the basis for your training and you may already have many of these guidelines in place. Creating written documentation of them will allow you to circulate the plan and get input and feedback from stakeholders.
Your facility should physically reflect your company’s emphasis on pedestrian safety.
- Use signs in key areas to remind pedestrians to be aware and stay a safe distance away from forklifts.
- Pedestrian walkways should be differentiated from forklift lanes and clearly marked by striping on the floor. If possible, physically separate the walkways with railings or barriers.
- If some areas are simply too dangerous for pedestrians, create clearly marked exclusion zones that are off limits to pedestrians
5. Developing Your Own Forklift Safety Training Program
Rather than hiring an outside contractor to perform training classes it’s not uncommon for companies to handle all safety procedures and training in-house. In some cases it may simply be more convenient to have dedicated safety and training personnel instead of scheduling classes with an outside trainer.
Successful Programs: Meeting OSHA Requirements
To ensure their training programs meet OSHA requirements, many companies send their training personnel to specialized forklift Train-The-Trainer classes. These classes help trainers develop the skills to teach safety guidelines and protocols. But having knowledgeable trainers won’t (by itself) make your safety training program a success.
You’ll need to carefully evaluate your facility, your equipment and your employees – both operators and pedestrians – to create a comprehensive safety program that protects your employees and your assets.
To get started, take a look at our checklist (backed by OSHA) to start developing your own forklift safety training program.
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