Stuart Taylor is Managing Director of Mentor FLT Training Limited, the UK's leading provider of training and associated services for all types of materials handling equipment and workplace transport.
Experienced forklift operators are, understandably, in high demand at present and it's a trend which looks set to continue as we head towards Brexit.
But as employers search for suitable candidates, are they clear on what they should be looking for to ensure they recruit competent operators? The job ads suggest not. On the web and in local papers, you'll see phrases such as "FORK LIFT LICENCE REQUIRED" or "NEEDS FLT LICENCE". While this sounds like a perfectly logical request, it's not: here in the UK, such a licence doesn't exist.
When the Fork Lift Truck Association undertook a review of job advertisements, it found that, despite being pure fiction, some 85% listed licences as a requirement for employment.
How should employers confirm skill levels?
So, if there's no such thing as a forklift licence, how do employers confirm competence? When employers request a licence, it's likely that they are referring to a certificate of training. In the UK, any operator undergoing formal training should, upon completion, receive a certificate demonstrating that they have successfully completed basic training on the specified category of truck.
For employers, the best way to confirm an operator's standards is by checking any certification that a potential employee holds and following this up with an assessment of their current operator skills.
But, beware: not all certificates are equal. Any training provider can issue documents like these. So, to ensure that your training provision meets the standards set by the HSE, you should look for training carried out to an accredited standard by one of the four Accrediting Bodies (AITT, ITSAAR, NPORS and RTITB) in the Accrediting Bodies Association. By choosing accredited training, you can be confident that you're complying with the legal and safety requirements outlined in the Approved Code of Practice (L117).
A certificate or a licence?
A car driving licence, once acquired, does not require any follow-up training. But with a forklift certificate, L117 recommends that refresher training is provided to operators every three to five years. This interval depends on your company policy and this will vary according to the frequency of use, near misses, etc.
Refresher training keeps your operators' skills 'fresh'. And, in doing so, this training limits the development of complacency and dangerous habits. In addition, it shows staff - in a tangible way - how you are investing in their skills. In turn, this motivates them, as well as benefitting your bottom line. After all, countless studies have shown that it's your safe, skilled operators that are the most productive.
Another crucial difference between certification and licences is ownership. Licences, ultimately, belong to the individual, whereas certificates belong to the company and there's no obligation for employers to issue certificates for operators to take to their next employer.
This issue, coupled with the array of substandard, non-accredited courses on the market, means there's no guarantee that a new starter to your company will come armed with suitable qualifications and documentation.
That's why you should assess the credentials and the current skill levels of any operator, before allowing them to start using your MHE. And don't forget, this includes agency/temporary workers, as your duty of care is the same for them, as it is for permanent staff.
Confirm new starters' skill levels in three ways:
1) Check your new operator's qualifications - do they have a recent certificate of basic training to an accredited standard? If they've been trained but don't have a copy of their certificate, you can confirm this with the ABA.
2) Assess their current practical skills.
3) Ensure that all three elements of training detailed in L117 are completed; not just basic training but job specific and familiarisation, to ensure they are safe to start work on your site, with your equipment.
In summary, since there's no such thing as a lasting, universal licence, it's critical, as an employer, that you confirm operator standards to ensure new employees understand how to work safely on your site, and provide regular refresher training to ensure they continue to do so.