Richard Shore 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.
Anyone who has ever had involvement with health and safety legislation will have come across the term 'reasonably practicable', but what does it mean and how can an employer make sure that the training they provide their employees fulfils the definition?
Well, it all starts with that most beloved of phrases, 'risk assessment'. I used to really dislike that phrase as it represented everything that was wrong with 'jobs worth' health and safety managers who used it as an excuse to stop people doing things. I still think to a degree that's the case, but over the past few years, I've come to realise that it's a very sensible approach to any business problem, and if the people applying it have the necessary experience, knowledge and skills, backed by a bit of bottle, then they can't go far wrong.
A risk assessment to anyone with children is really pretty easy. You keep them away from the medicine cupboard, fire and knives; you don't let them cross the road on their own until they've had the right training and have shown a sufficiently mature approach etc.; and you make sure that if they do something that might endanger them, you point this out in terms that they understand. While I'm not suggesting for a moment that employers treat their staff like children, I am saying that the principle of doing everything you reasonably can without stifling the child is a model for risk assessment that in my opinion is easily understood and plays quite well. We all know that if our child has an accident that could have been reasonably foreseen and therefore preventable, then we feel pretty angry with ourselves that we hadn't bothered to take the necessary precautions.
Well, in a nutshell, that's 'reasonably practicable': if we knew it was likely to happen and it does and we didn't do anything to prevent it, then we need to be ashamed (or at least cross) with ourselves.
So, translating this into training forklift operators, or for that matter any piece of industrial equipment, means doing whatever could be reasonably expected of you. The importance of this is not only an employer's moral responsibility, it is a legal one as well. Health and Safety law is different to most other laws in the UK in that it is the responsibility of the defendant to prove that they are innocent and not the responsibility of the prosecutor to prove that they are guilty.
The good news for those managers responsible for forklift training is that thankfully they have a well defined framework on which to base their decision of what is reasonably practicable. Twenty years ago, the HSC published the first edition of the "Approved Code of Practice and Guidance for Rider-operated Lift Trucks", which provided the foundation for operator training which is now well defined in terms of length of training required, number of delegates on a course, ratio of truck to instructor to delegates etc.
So, the answer to the question 'what is reasonably practicable?' is to follow the guidance provided by the code of practice and use a properly accredited training provider. Any short-cuts from this may well come back to bite you.