Rob Vetter is technical director and managing partner with the Ives Training Group, in Blaine, WA, USA, a leader in North American mobile equipment training systems since 1981.
Operating a forklift without proper training is hazardous and possibly fatal to operators and other workers. This is a statement of fact that should not be breaking news to anyone reading this; particularly those who operate businesses that use forklifts. Most reasonable-minded people should agree with that and move on, but I am bitterly disappointed to report that, in my experience at least, this is not the case.
Yes, here we are almost 20 years down the road from the implementation of OSHA's Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training Standard and other equally, if not more stringent, operator-related regulations across the US and Canada, and there are still many who are unaware, resistant or, worse, indifferent toward them.
As a trainer, I am programmed to be patient, approachable and accommodating. However, in the context of this article, I respectfully request your accommodation of my considered opinion on the matter, which is: if you operate a business that uses forklifts and are unaware of, resistant to or indifferent toward operator training regulations in this day and age, then you are incompetent, reckless or criminally negligent. From my perspective, you should relinquish your position to those more capable of and invested in creating and maintaining a safe workplace.
Many regulatory enforcement officers and consultants I have worked with personally over my career would likely take a stance on the matter that goes beyond simple relinquishment of one's position and skews toward measures that are a lot more punitive. Their reaction to negligent employers often reminds me of a remark a police officer once made to me in relation to drunk drivers. I was graduating from high school and he had come there to give a speech cautioning us grads on the dangers of impaired driving. He said that after all the horrific scenes and tragedies created by impaired drivers that he had witnessed in his time, he had reached the point where he "hated" drunk drivers. If you could have seen the look in his eyes as he spoke the words, as I did, all those years ago, you'd certainly think twice!
Keep in mind that like police officers, regulatory officers investigate fatality scenes that are every bit as horrifying and tragic. I can assure you they have absolutely no sympathy for supervisors, managers or employers who are not "with the program".
Likewise, when training, I find myself having little if any time for those I encounter who choose to argue and rail against not only safety rules and regulations, but it would seem the very concept of doing things safely. It's just too late in the day to claim ignorance and, frankly, I am no longer willing to put forth the effort needed to mount an argument in favour of safety with anyone that would expend an effort to argue against it.
Don't misunderstand me. I will happily take the time with a would-be operator or forklift trainer to explain the benefits of safety and hopefully provide the motivation to be safe. But as soon as I get a whiff that operators, trainers or employers think the whole thing is just a big bunch of bull**** (their word, not mine), you lose me as an ally. To them I say, for the sake of your own safety and everyone around you, don't do it. To operators, that means don't operate a forklift; to trainers, it means don't take up training as a vocation; and to employers, it means, well - just don't.
There are no excuses. It's time to get with the program, or go away.