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Training to Prevent Tragedy

One of the most important questions that MHEDA members must ask themselves is, “If one of my customers had a forklift accident today, how would it affect my company?” Forklift training is one of the most fundamental and important necessities that material handling companies must provide. Failure to provide adequate training and safety precautions can lead to injuries, lawsuits and even deaths.

There are 94,750 reported injuries related to forklift accidents each year, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). One in six of all workplace fatalities in the United States is forklift-related, with 42 percent of forklift-related deaths occurring in manufacturing facilities. The reason that employees must undergo extensive training to get their forklift certification is because lift trucks can be dangerous if used incorrectly. Beyond the physical danger involved with improper utilization of equipment comes financial responsibility. Companies must be wary of the enormous risk associated with inadequate or non-existent training.

In 2010, lift trucks accounted for 3,224 OSHA violations, the eighth most-cited violation. Many injuries occurred when lift trucks were inadvertently driven off loading docks, fell between docks and an unsecured trailer or accidentally struck an employee or bystander. OSHA cited inadequate training as the biggest reason for the violations. OSHA standard 1910.178 sets forth the standards for forklift training. It specifically states, “Training shall consist of a combination of formal instruction (e.g., lecture, discussion, interactive computer learning, video tape, written material), practical training (demonstrations performed by the trainer and practical exercises performed by the trainee), and evaluation of the operator’s performance in the workplace.” The practical training must be done on the specific make and model of the forklift and in the environment that the work will be done in. Training must be done “under the direct supervision of persons who have the knowledge, training, and experience to train operators and evaluate their competence and where such operation does not endanger the trainee or other employees.”

Who has more knowledge of a customer’s lift trucks than the distributor who sold them? Accidents and violations are opportunities for distributors to provide the training necessary to avoid repeating these mistakes in the future. Providing training to customers serves many purposes. First and foremost, it will make the customer’s operation safer and help them avoid fines from OSHA violations. Providing this service will make the customer happy and increase the likelihood of making them a repeat customer. Joe Verzino, president of Liftech Equipment Companies (Syracuse, NY), provides training to his customers and says, “We use it more as a customer service that just keeps us closer to our customer base. Since we’ve been doing it so long, we often get called in to do operator training for multiple brands of equipment for customers whom we do not sell to.”

When provided good service, end-users are more likely to tell other customers in the area about your company. Distributors can also tell potential customers about their experiences and how they helped an end-user rectify bad practices after a violation or accident. By having an example at hand, the customer is more likely to spend some money on good training up front, rather than pay OSHA fines or lawsuits after an accident.

When providing training, however, it is vital that it be thorough, and by the letter of the law. Providing inadequate training can open a distributor up to a lawsuit in the event of an accident. Most injuries that involve forklifts, whether to an operator or a pedestrian, are followed by lawsuits. In that case it is important that the distributor is able to verify and prove that the training was completed and covered every aspect of the OSHA safety standards set forth in standard 1910.178.

In addition to initial training, refresher training is sometimes necessary. Refresher training is required by OSHA when an operator has been observed operating a vehicle unsafely, an operator has been involved in an accident or near-miss accident, the operator has received an evaluation that reveals that the operator is not operating truck safely, the operator is assigned a different type of truck or a workplace with different conditions and also at least once every three years.

There are other financial aspects to be cognizant of when discussing improper training. Forklift accidents can lead to the destruction or damage of valuable resources. Not only can the lift truck be damaged, but it can also damage the load it is carrying, the facilities, electrical systems or other vehicles.  These accidents can add up to thousands of dollars worth of damages. Maintenance costs can also go down as employees are properly trained. By using all equipment properly, machines can be preserved with much less wear and tear than if an inexperienced employee were using them. In addition, companies can incur enormous insurance costs if they have been found to be in violation of OSHA training standards. All of these costs can be avoided by simply offering adequate training.

Forklift training is a costly and time-consuming process. It is, however, a mandatory and necessary part of operating a safe business. “Operator safety training is a very important issue. If the customer’s environment and culture acknowledge that safety is critical, then what is spent for training is a drop in the bucket,” says Gerald Rogers, president, Manchester Industries. (Manchester, PA). Spending the time and money to train employees how to operate machinery correctly can save the company lots of money down the line, as well as potentially save several lives.

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