Do you remember those corny courtroom TV dramas that always ended up with either the beleaguered witness breaking down on the witness stand under the intense pressure of the prosecutor (“…alright I did it and I’m glad I did!”) or the ‘surprise’ witness, who was mysteriously unreachable for the entire episode, arriving like a white knight just in the nick of time to save the day? Corny stuff indeed but you have to admit the drama made for great entertainment. Unfortunately, in the real world, courtroom and/or litigation procedures are quite tedious and nowhere near as entertaining, especially to the parties involved, although the effects can be just as dramatic.
In relation to legal proceedings involving mobile equipment I have noticed a very un-dramatic, but damning nonetheless, commonality. It is not always the sole determining factor in determining the guilt of one or the innocence of another and occasionally it is not a factor at all, but based on the case information I have studied, improper and/or non-existent documentation of safety training can mean the difference between triumph and tragedy. The reason for this is because the lack of proper documentation, or any documentation at all, muddies the water at best and at worst, legally speaking, condemns the employer. It appears that in the eyes of the law, the completeness and/or accuracy of training-related documentation is a reflection of the same in the training itself. Similarly, the absence of training-related documentation translates to an absence of the training itself.
This speaks to a very fundamental tenet of training and one that I can tell you comes up early and often during the Train the trainer programs that IVES delivers: if it isn’t written down it didn’t happen. It is a very serious matter and can be an extremely bitter pill to swallow if you have to learn it the hard way.
Documentation is an enormously significant component in a successful training program because for all intents and purposes it is the training program. It is likely that regulatory authorities conducting general worksite inspections may rely on observation to base their assessment of operator training, but it is a virtual certainty that if a forklift incident causes an investigation it will move well beyond general observation into deep scrutiny of such things as the trainer’s lesson plan, logs, material content, written and practical evaluations and, of course, the qualifications and/or competence of the trainer. From there, authorities will probably move on to looking into how the training program is implemented and enforced by the employer with respect to practical application(s) and what steps are taken to regularly identify hazards and take corrective action to ensure that the required safety procedures advocated within the training are carried out on an ongoing basis and that those not following safety rules and practices are re-trained or even disciplined.
It can get very ugly in a hurry but having accurate and complete documentation of all aspects of a training program can alleviate a lot of pressure as it provides the proof that, in spite of the fact that a damage or injury producing incident may have occurred, the employer acted responsibly and diligently and, as such, would likely not be perceived as being negligent, which would certainly not be the case if the appropriate, thorough and accurate documentation could not be produced.
IVES recommends that, at the very least, the documentation retained by an employer relative to forklift operator training should include:
- The name of the operator.
- The date and location of the training.
- The date and location of the evaluation.
- Evaluation results (written test, practical evaluation).
- The type of equipment addressed/used.
- The name of the trainer and/or evaluator.
- The qualifications of the trainer/evaluator.
The trainer should be able to produce detailed information on the content and duration each phase of the program and, if possible, general information on the methods employed to ensure the training is understood by the trainees.
In the event of an incident there is no guarantee that documentation will completely absolve you of any liability, but the lack of it will almost certainly condemn you. In a manner of speaking, proper documentation is the closest thing to a white knight that you have.
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