An Open Letter to Employers – Train Your Forklift Operators

An Open Letter to Employers - Train Your Forklift Operators is an article regarding site and equipment specific forklift operator training requirements.

WANTED – Trained and qualified forklift operator with at least 5 years’ experience on sit-down counterbalanced units as well as stand-up reach trucks and powered pallet trucks. Must have valid Operator’s Certificate.

Have you ever seen an employment ad like this? I have, and when I do I just shake my head at yet another employer that doesn’t know what is expected or required with respect to training/qualifying forklift operators across North America. When people ask me what the biggest stumbling block is in ensuring forklift operators are properly trained and evaluated my answer is hands down, the ignorance of employers. I don’t mean that to be as insulting as it sounds, I mean “ignorance” in the truest sense of the word, which is literally a lack of knowledge, information or education. There is no particular shame in not knowing but it’s a dangerous and false assumption that it is an acceptable excuse in the eyes of regulatory authorities. In fact, for a company to admit ignorance of the applicable occupational safety health (OSH) laws that govern their business as an excuse for not implementing and enforcing said laws is to admit negligence.

It is all well and good for an employer to require a new hire to possess some degree of experience in the work being offered but it is completely unacceptable except under the most narrow circumstances to accept such experience, no matter how well documented or represented, as being synonymous with regulatory compliance at the very least or operational competence at the very most.

Let’s look at a scenario that depicts the aforementioned ‘narrow circumstances’ and discuss the minimum amount of process due in most regulatory jurisdictions across North America in such a scenario.

John Doe gets laid off from the warehouse he has worked at for the past 10 years. During his time there his employer trained and qualified him on the forklift he used during all 10 years of his employment, a Toyopillar 100. John’s company feels awful about having to lay him off so in an effort to help him present himself as a more attractive prospective employee they provide him with all of the training records that accumulated in his employee file over his tenure of employment at the warehouse.

John takes his forklift operator training records and credentials to a job interview at another warehouse a week later. During the interview, John and his interviewer are elated to learn that his records not only indicate that his past training and experience are applicable to the job he is applying for but that they match identically from the specifics of the tasks involved to the environment the work is done in to the types of loads moved right down to the Toyopillar 100 forklift he would be assigned to operate. With this information at hand, John shakes hands with his new employer and is hired. After filling out a few administrative forms and being issued his basic personal protective equipment, John is given a brief tour of the facility and put to work on the forklift under the watchful eye of his fellow forklift operators.

While it was prudent and required of John’s new employer to request proof of previous training and then assess it and his past work experience relative to the work that he would be expected to perform at his new job, it is still not enough. Even in the highly unlikely narrow circumstances described in the scenario above where a new hire’s past training and experience matched exactly the situational requirements of a potential new employer, the new employer would, at the very least, still be required to conduct a practical evaluation of the operator’s knowledge and skills in the workplace.

Looking back on this scenario, how likely is it that a potential new hire would show up at a job interview with even his or her past training documents? Further, how likely is it that those training documents would show that the potential employee’s past work and training history matches up exactly with the situation at the new warehouse, right down to the model of forklift used? I am going to go out on a limb here and say that the occurrence of this scenario is not only unlikely but virtually impossible.

Employers must train and evaluate their employees to the specifics of the workplace, the equipment used and, of course, the tasks required. In reality, an employer is the only entity that can qualify a forklift operator to work at their workplace because of the specific nature of the OSH requirements relative to forklift operator training.

So, if a potential new hire applies for a forklift operator job at your workplace, even one that fits the impossibly narrow circumstances described above, acknowledge and assess their past training and experience but if you hire them, play it safe and cover your bases by putting them through your forklift operator training and qualification process anyway.

Rob Vetter
Director of Training
IVES Training Group

Did you enjoy this article? Sign up for our newsletter to receive more like this!