On December 1, OSHA issued new requirements for training employees who operate powered industrial trucks. Here's a rundown on what you should know:

Who's covered? Operators of powered industrial trucks in general industry, and construction and maritime industries, must be trained. OSHA estimates the new rules will cover more than 1.5 million operators.

OSHA has revised its existing general industry standard ? 1910.178(l) ? and added for shipyards a new standard ? 1915.120(l) ? with a cross-reference to 1910.178(l). For construction, a new standard has been added ? 1926.602(d) ? with a cross-reference to 1910.178(l). OSHA defines powered industrial trucks as forklifts and other vehicles that carry, push, pull, lift, stack, or tier material. The standard does not apply to vehicles used for earth moving or over-the-road hauling.

When must training be completed? Employees who operate powered industrial trucks and who are hired before December 1, 1999, must be trained and evaluated by December 1, 1999. Employees hired after December 1, 1999, must be trained and evaluated before being assigned to operate a powered industrial truck.

What must the training include? A training program must consist of these three parts:

1. Formal instruction can be given using lectures, discussions, interactive computer learning, videos, or written material. Formal instruction does not have to occur in an actual classroom.

It can be as simple as the trainer talking to the trainee and explaining training material, such as the concept of vehicle stability, what causes instability, and how to avoid it.

2. Practical, hands-on training covers demonstrations performed by the trainer and practical exercises performed by the trainee.

3. An evaluation of the operator's ability to handle the truck safely in the workplace must be conducted by the trainer. Specific training topics to be covered are listed in the standards. All of the topics must be covered unless the employer can show that certain topics are not needed.

For example, an employee assigned to operate an order picker must be trained in the location and function of the controls; the location and operation of the engine or motor; steering and maneuvering; visibility; inspection and maintenance; other general operating functions of the vehicle; and workplace-related topics.

That employee must also be taught to use fall protection when the truck platform is raised, and never to drive the truck when the platform is raised, except as specified in the operator's manual.

In general, the training program must be based on the trainee's prior knowledge and skill, types of powered industrial trucks used in the workplace, hazards in the workplace, and the operator's demonstrated ability to handle a powered industrial truck safely.

OSHA does not specify the time that must be spent on training, nor the exact methods that must be used.

Who does the training? The standard does not stipulate that a designated person conduct the training and evaluation of each operator. It does, though, spell out the knowledge, skills, or experience any trainer or evaluator must possess. An employer might have the necessary prerequisites to qualify as a trainer and evaluator, or the job can be assigned to one or more employees or an outside resource having those prerequisites.

Employers must certify that the training and evaluation has been done. How often must training be conducted? Each operator's performance must be evaluated every three years. Usually, the person doing the evaluation would first observe the operator to determine if he or she is performing safely, and then ask questions to ensure that the operator has the knowledge or experience needed.

Refresher training is required whenever one of the following occurs:

the operator is involved in an accident or near-miss incident;

the operator has been observed operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner;

the operator has been determined in an evaluation to need more training;

there are changes in the workplace that could affect safe operation (such as a different type of paving, reconfigured storage racks, or new layouts with narrower aisles or restricted visibility); or

the operator is assigned to a different type of truck.

What about operators who have received prior training? Any operator (whether currently on the payroll or a new hire) does not have to be trained in topics that he or she has previously received training in, provided that the operator's performance has been evaluated as competent.

The adequacy of prior training can take into account the type of equipment operated, how much experience the operator has had on that equipment, how recently the experience was gained, and where the operator has worked.

OSHA believes new operators, probably, will always need some training on site-specific safety factors. Depending on their competency, others may be able to forego some or all of the initial training.

For more details on the new powered industrial truck operating training standard, access OSHA's Web site at www.osha.gov. Technical questions can be directed to OSHA's Directorate of Safety Standards Programs (202) 693-2082.

Causes of powered industrial truck accidents OSHA estimates 101 employees are killed on the job every year in industrial truck accidents, and 94,570 injuries occur annually in these kinds of mishaps. According to OSHA research, here are some of the reasons why:

  • No training
  • Improper equipment
  • Tipover, overturn
  • Struck by powered industrial truck
  • Operator or another employee struck by a falling load
  • Elevated employee on truck
  • Carrying excess passenger
  • Ran off loading dock or other surface
  • Poor maintenance
  • Accident during maintenance
  • Lost control of truck
  • Speeding
  • Vehicle left in gear
  • Operator inattention
  • Employee overcome by carbon monoxide or propane fuel
  • Faulty powered industrial truck
  • Unloading unchocked trailer
  • Employee fell from vehicle
  • Improper use of vehicle
  • Electrocutions
  • Unstable load