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OSHA Requirements For Industrial Truck Examinations

Why following the letter of OSHA standard 1910.178(q)(7) could be troublesome for your customers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that all forklift operator training programs include instruction explaining how operators are to “examine” forklift trucks before placing them in operation. Standard 1910.178(l)(3) reads:

Training program content. Powered industrial truck operators shall receive initial training in the following topics, except in topics which the employer can demonstrate are not applicable to safe operation of the truck in the employer’s workplace…. Any vehicle inspection and maintenance that the operator will be required to perform; 1910.178(l)(3)(i)(J).

Despite this requirement, I’ve recently discovered a very high percentage of forklift users who are not aware that they are violating an OSHA mandate if they fail to perform these inspections. This examination requirement is found in OSHA’s rules for Powered Industrial Trucks, 1910.178. The specific requirement is found in 1910.178(q)(7) and reads,

“Industrial trucks shall be examined before being placed in service, and shall not be placed in service if the examination shows any condition adversely affecting the safety of the vehicle. Such examination shall be made at least daily. Where industrial trucks are used on a round-the-clock basis, they shall be examined after each shift. Defects when found shall be immediately reported and corrected.”

Offering customers unsolicited help in understanding and complying with 1910.178(q)(7) is a good way to distinguish yourself from your competition.

Exactly what components of their forklift trucks are customers supposed to tell their operators to examine? This seems clear enough to those of us in the forklift business, but how clear is this to the average, possibly non-technically inclined, customer? If customers seek clarification in the OSHA regulations, they may find that this resource is not much help. The closest the OSHA regulations come to clarifying exactly what the operator is examining for in 1910.178(q)(7) is found in the first sentence of 1910.178(q)(10),

“Industrial trucks shall be kept in a clean condition, free of lint, excess oil, and grease. Noncombustible agents should be used for cleaning trucks.”

Daily Inspection Forms
This creates an opportunity for dealers to become their customer’s resource. One inexpensive way to help is to simply resurrect or regenerate the daily inspection forms most of us have offered our customers for many years. These inspection forms, commonly re-ferred to as daily checklists, provide a written list of recommended checks that customers can pass on directly to their operators. Besides the general guidelines OSHA covers in 1910.178(q)(10), all the daily checklists I’ve been exposed to include checks of fluid levels and safety checks not specifically listed in 1910.178.

In addition to printed daily checklists, there are products that offer an electronic means to assure these inspections are performed as OSHA requires. Some such products are able to automate the inspection process. If operators’ answers to questions asked prior to startup indicate problems with critical safety items, like brakes, the product disables the forklift’s ability to be operated. This fulfills the examination portion of the OSHA requirement without the need to monitor the employee for compliance or provide and file paper.

Maintaining Documents
Another area of the regulation that OSHA could be clearer about is how to document these examinations and how long documentation must be maintained. This question was specifically addressed by Richard Fairfax, OSHA directorate of enforcement programs, in May 2000. Responding to a question about an employer’s right to require employees to fill out a written examination form prior to forklift operation, Fairfax wrote, “Although the standard (1910.178(q)(7)) requires that the examination be conducted, there is no OSHA requirement that the examination be recorded in writing on a checklist such as the one you provided. However, as an employer, it is well within your rights to implement additional safety practices that go beyond OSHA’s requirements such as the completion of your written checklist.”

A month’s worth of documentation should be enough to assure a compliance auditor that the customer is fulfilling its inspection obligations.

Customers who desire to use written examination checklists may ask how long they should keep the written examination forms. Again, no standard requires the use of a written form in the first place, but I recommend keeping at least a month’s worth of documentation. This should be enough history to assure anyone auditing for compliance that the customer is fulfilling its obligations.

OSHA Inspections
What happens if there is an event prompting an OSHA inspection where written documentation of examinations does not exist? According to Stanford Thiergood, OSHA’s duty officer on the date of contact and senior compliance officer, the customer is at the mercy of what their employee(s) tell the OSHA investigator. The employee(s) will be asked open-ended questions about what they did from the time they started work until the time forklift operation began. The investigator will be listening for unsolicited information verifying verbally that a forklift examination occurred prior to its operation. If they get this verbal confirmation, that will be accepted as proper verification by the investigator.

Thiergood went on to say that if he learns from the employee that a defect was noted during the examination, he will then look for written documentation that the defect was addressed properly before the forklift was allowed to return to service. 1910.178(q)(1) states,

“Any power-operated industrial truck not in safe operating condition shall be removed from service. All repairs shall be made by authorized personnel.”

His position for requiring written documentation is that any defect serious enough to take a forklift out of service should have a repair order of some type generated proving that the defect was corrected.

One customer, who kept written documentation of its forklift examinations, told me that it was cited during an investigation for gaps in the printed documentation it kept on file. This customer explained to the OSHA investigator that the gaps existed because the forklift wasn’t used on the days where written documentation was missing. This inspector explained to the customer that since it kept written records of examinations, it should have kept written documentation on the days where the gaps existed to document that the forklift wasn’t used.

While it can be argued that 1910.178(q)(7) is not perfect, when executed as intended, there can be no disputing its importance in helping to improve forklift safety and productivity. During these difficult times, the little things a distributor does for customers can make an important difference in helping to keep them loyal to that distributor. Offering them unsolicited help in understanding and complying with 1910.178(q)(7) is a good way to distinguish yourself from your competition. Nothing else I’ve ever provided to our customers has generated anywhere near the amount of positive customer feedback as providing them information about 1910.178(q)(7) has.

As you can see, there’s quite a bit of 1910.178(q)(7) that is open to interpretation by both the forklift user and OSHA. I have encouraged our local OSHA office to revisit this and work on clarifying what should be examined on forklift trucks and how this examination should be documented. I encourage you to contact your local OSHA office if you agree with me. By doing so, the company you end up helping may be your own!

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Bruce Dickey Meet the Author
Bruce Dickey is a customer service representative at the Houston, Texas, branch of Sunbelt Industrial Trucks, located on the Web at www.sunbelt-industrial.com.


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