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What to look for when recruiting a competent forklift truck operator

Mentor Operator Training.jpg
Stuart Taylor, Managing Director at Mentor FLT Training, explains the misconceptions around the forklift truck ‘licence’ and describes what employers should look for when recruiting an operator.

Ian Hart, Editor of Safety & Health Practicioner (IH): Why is there such a misconception around the myth of a forklift truck ‘licence’, where did the terminology originate from and what hazards does it pose?

Stuart Taylor

Stuart Taylor (ST): “To drive a car, you must have a licence, which acts as blanket confirmation that your theory and practical tests have been completed and you are competent to drive this type of vehicle until the licence expires. It is often assumed that the same principle applies to forklift trucks, but the reality is a bit different. In the UK, a forklift operator must complete basic training on a specified truck category, for which they will receive a certificate as proof of that training. Unlike a driving licence, the industry recommendation is that basic training is then refreshed every three to five years, depending on the operating environment and company policy.

“But that’s not all, the operator should then undergo job-specific and familiarisation training, to ensure that they can safely operate in their workplace using their equipment, as per Approved Code for Practice L117. After all three stages of training are complete, the operator will be granted authorisation to operate from their employer – until this time, they should not be allowed unsupervised access to forklift trucks on site.

“Job adverts for operators often ask for a “forklift licence” but what they actually mean is the certificate. The risk is that both operators and those recruiting them may not fully understand all of the steps required to ensure someone is ready to start working safely. And without the relevant preparation, operators (and those working around them) are at increased risk of accidents and injuries.”

IH: If there is no such thing as an official licence, what should employers look for when recruiting and hiring a forklift truck operator?

ST: “In order to determine an operator’s skillset, the first step for employers is to check any certification that the operator holds. However, it is important to remember that not all certificates are as valuable as others. Any forklift training provider can issue a certificate, but you can’t always guarantee to what standard the operator was trained.

“For assurance, employers should look for courses accredited by members of the Accrediting Bodies Association for Workplace Transport (ABA), comprising of AITT, RTITB, ITSSAR, NPORS and Lantra. Courses accredited by these bodies must meet the requirements outlined by Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety, the HSE.

“It is also important to check the authenticity of any certification. Legitimate certificates provided by an accredited training provider will have unique numbers you can use to verify qualifications. If operators have completed accredited training but do not have a copy of their certificate, this can be confirmed with the accrediting body.”

IH: Is there a way to confirm a forklift operator’s competence?

ST: “Once any relevant certificates have been checked, employers should practically assess the operator’s current skill levels. They should then identify any training requirements, ensuring that all three elements of forklift training are completed. Once you are happy that they have the skills and knowledge needed to work safely on your site, they can be issued authorisation to operate and provided access to the relevant equipment.

“However, while this ensures that they are competent at this point, this should be regularly reviewed moving forward, as the size and nature of MHE means that any complacency or bad habits that develop can have extremely serious consequences.”

Mentor FLT Training

IH: How important is regular training when it comes to operator competency, and has the absence of training during the pandemic led to a shortage of trained operators, or an excess of operators who’s training is not up to date?

ST: “Regular training is vital to maintaining safety and reducing risk, long term. As per L117, it ensures that operators maintain good driving habits, reassess their abilities, and learn new skills where appropriate.

“Various factors, including the pandemic, have certainly contributed towards a skills shortage within the industry at the moment. COVID-19 caused delays to many businesses’ training plans due to staff absences and business closures, especially early on, which helped build a backlog when many returned to work.

“However, throughout the pandemic, the HSE and accrediting bodies were clear that anyone required to operate an equipment type which was new to them must continue to receive basic (COVID-secure) operator training before being authorised to use it, due to the risks posed by MHE if used incorrectly.

“Though businesses were urged to prioritise these course types in the busiest periods of the pandemic, the importance of regular refresher training remained evident even at this time, as it was advised only to be delayed by a matter of months, if necessary, and where sufficient justification could be provided.

“We would always advise companies to plan training in advance so they can be sure that their operators maintain the skills needed to work safely. Otherwise, they risk compromising on the standard of training available should they not be able to find an accredited provider at short notice.”

IH: You will be speaking about how to confirm forklift truck driver competence at your talk at Safety & Health Expo next week. Who will your session be most applicable to and what do you hope they will take away if they attend?

ST: “We hope to raise awareness amongst anyone responsible for health and safety in businesses that utilise forklift trucks. Whether they be general Health and Safety Managers, those who specifically oversee forklift operations, or business owners themselves, we hope to clear up any misconceptions surrounding forklift training requirements and provide practical guidance that they can implement in their workplace to reduce risk, ensure compliance and maintain productivity.”

IH: Finally, what are you most looking forward to about speaking at, and attending in general, face-to-face events again. Is there anything at Safety & Heath Expo that stands out to you that you are looking forward to seeing?

ST: “It’s great to be able to speak at face-to-face events again – they allow us to connect with businesses using forklifts day to day and spread the safety message. Hopefully, we can help provide attendees with useful guidance, but their feedback also guides us. Often, we receive questions during or after our sessions which help us to understand potential problem areas and the latest needs of the industry, and our customers.

“Regards Safety & Health Expo, we’re particularly pleased to be part of such a professional, knowledgeable and wide-ranging speaker line up – there are certainly plenty of opportunities to see some great sessions, and meet with like-minded individuals and organisations.”

See Stuart’s session, No such thing as a forklift ‘licence’: How to confirm driver competence?, from 16:30 – 17:00, in the Operational Excellence Theatre on Tuesday 17 May.

Safety & Health Expo 2022 takes place at London’s ExCeL from 17-19 May. Registration for is completely free, and your ticket also allows you free access to co-located events, FIREX International, Facilities Show, Intelligent Building Europe and IFSEC International.

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