Warehouse managers know that training is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for any employees who will operate a lift truck. In 1999, OSHA updated its requirements to cite specific subject areas that training must cover and make it federal law that all lift truck operators be trained and evaluated prior to operating a lift truck. Since then, it has become standard practice to ensure that operators are properly trained.

Most lift truck manufacturers offer training programs that can be tailored to a specific company’s needs and conducted on-site in the environment where the operators will be working. These training programs continue to evolve with new technologies and now include DVDs. Training has demonstrated it can lead to substantial benefits, including reducing accidents and accident-related injuries, improving employee morale by raising operator confidence, reducing product damage, minimizing costly equipment repairs, and increasing overall lift truck uptime and productivity.

However, warehouse managers may not be aware that refresher training is an option for employees who have been previously trained and only need to be updated in certain aspects of lift truck operation, either as a response to a lift truck incident or to expand the operator’s training to a new lift truck. Refresher training focuses training on specific needs when an operator has been found competent in other aspects of lift truck operation and does not require review of a comprehensive program.

Not just for new employees
While companies today are more diligent about lift truck training and documentation for new employees, warehouse managers must consider the benefits of training temporary employees, along with the benefits of refresher training. OSHA mandates that all lift truck operators be re-evaluated and recertified at least once every three years. Evaluation and certification for both new and experienced employees is the responsibility of the employer. Evaluation can be conducted through:

  • Discussion with the lift truck operator about his or her performance
  • Observation of the employee operating the lift truck
  • Administration of a written test or a performance test in the warehouse
  • Written documentation of previous training that meets the employer’s requirements

Because employers are responsible for certifying their lift truck operators and documenting that the operators have been properly trained and evaluated on their performance, it is imperative that employers conduct thorough evaluations. An employer must require refresher training for any operator who is not meeting performance standards for lift truck operation. Employers must call for refresher training if:

  • An operator has had a poor evaluation or has violated company safety rules
  • The operator has been involved in an accident or a close call
  • A different class of lift truck has been assigned to the operator
  • The work area, such as rack configuration, has been changed or the operator has been assigned to a different work area

Refresher training is only needed in relevant topics, so training subjects would cover only what is relevant to the operators in that particular session. If training was scheduled because the operator will switch to a counterbalanced lift truck instead of an order picker, training should cover counterbalanced truck-specific information. OSHA rules state that if an operator has been evaluated and is found competent on a specific topic that was previously taught, duplicate training is not required.

Employers can use lectures, videos, demonstrations or practice sessions to successfully complete refresher training. If training is not conducted, is not adequate or is not properly documented, OSHA can levy fines on a company that is not compliant with the mandates.

New staff requires training
Additionally, a company may hire a new lift truck operator who was recently trained by his or her previous employer. According to OSHA, the company must still evaluate this new operator to ensure that the operator’s previous training was appropriate for the operator’s new company. Re-evaluation is important to ensure that the operator received thorough training and that it is relevant to the work performed with the new employer. If this operator is found to be competent in most areas but may need updates on some specific areas of training, then refresher training is an option that will avoid covering topics the employee is already knowledgeable about. Furthermore, refresher training will ensure that any previously trained employees have received updated training on aspects of lift truck operation that are pertinent to his or her new position.

Companies also are responsible for training and evaluating temporary workers who will operate lift trucks. Companies that require seasonal labor help may work with an employment agency to bring in additional lift truck operators. Whether or not operators are trained by an agency, it is still the responsibility of the employer to evaluate and certify the temporary employee. As with year-round staff, the employer must certify that temporary lift truck operators meet training requirements and the performance standards of the company. The training and evaluation of temporary workers also must be properly documented to meet OSHA regulations.

Operator evaluation
The way lift truck operator evaluation is conducted is left open to the employer, and specific criteria that operators must meet for certification is not formally available as part of OSHA’s standards. The employer must use discretion to determine when a trainee is fully prepared to operate a lift truck in the facility. To help warehouse managers evaluate lift truck drivers, lift truck manufacturers may offer appraisal checklists that list items to consider when determining whether a lift truck driver has been satisfactorily trained. These checklists include items that were covered in training sessions and then further practiced by the trainee. The checklist can serve as a guideline to help an employer document lift truck training and conduct a thorough evaluation of an operator’s performance.     

A dealer can conduct training sessions that are tailored to a company’s specific needs, as well as the needs of the personnel involved in the training session. Properly trained employees better understand the operation of a lift truck, resulting in more efficient operations. An effective lift truck operator training program can minimize downtime and increase productivity, benefiting the employee, the company and the customer.    

About the author

Rudy Cuevas is the corporate safety administrator for Associated Material Handling Industries Inc., an authorized service center of The Raymond Corporation. Cuevas is experienced in lift truck safety training, including conducting train-the-trainer classes, operator training sessions and refresher training courses, and helping companies improve their current safety programs. He has trained more than 1,000 operators in approximately 100 companies. Cuevas holds a bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety from Northern Illinois University. From August 2005 to July 2006, he held the position of vice president of the Northern Illinois University Student Chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers.