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An operator's certificate is no free pass

24 July 2018

When a fork truck operator switches trucks or tasks they may well require conversion training, says Adam Smith, general manager of AITT.

The past year has seen a sharp rise in the numbers of fork lift truck operators taking conversion courses. A 27% growth is a positive sign that employers are taking much more seriously the need to provide operators with the important, additional training necessary for them for work on new and different types of equipment.

There has been a widespread assumption across a broad spectrum of industry that once an operator has gained a certificate to drive a forklift they are entitled to operate any model with just a bit of practice and experience. Like so much bad practice, that view is based on a mixture of confusion, ignorance or sheer disregard for the legislation.

Basic training: covers all the knowledge and skills needed to safely operate the type of fork lift – along with attachments – that trainee will use. That includes awareness of the risks involved in driving it. This training, which, according to HSE requirements, covers 16 distinct areas, is very comprehensive and takes place “off the job” over the course of several days. 

Specific job training: follows on from basic training or can be combined with it. Like basic training, it is carried out away from the everyday working environment and its accompanying distractions and pressures. Importantly, it is specific to the employer’s needs and involves working in conditions similar to those that operators will face in the workplace, including awareness of site rules and safe systems of working.

Familiarisation training: is distinctly different in that it is carried out in the actual workplace – under real conditions – and allows the operator to apply skills learnt in the previous two training stages. Importantly, it includes elements that can only be experienced in the operator’s own environment such as site layout, traffic flow, segregated areas, low roofs, potential hazards, local emergency procedures etc.

Conversion training enables trained and experienced operators to extend the range of fork lifts which they are qualified to drive. For example, it could involve learning to operate a truck from a different category, such as when an operator trained to operate a counterbalance truck learns the skills to operate a reach truck, an articulated truck or very narrow aisle man-up truck. 

Similarly, conversion training is necessary when, for example, an operator who is trained to drive a small electric counterbalance truck wants to operate a much larger or more powerful model where controls may be very different even though the type of truck remains the same. 

The training required is every bit as thorough and detailed as basic training so that all gaps in knowledge and variations on existing skills are fully covered. Just like initial, in-truck training, conversion training must embrace basic, job-specific and familiarisation training… and, at the end of the course, operators are tested on their ability to operate the equipment and, if successful, will receive a certificate and the qualification will be logged on the accrediting body’s national database.

As an employer, you’ll find all you need to know about safe operations in a ‘must-read’ document that sadly, is seldom read: the HSE’s ACOP L117 Rider Operated Lift Trucks Operator Training and Safe Use. It gives clear and accessible guidance on all types of training and is available free as a PDF on the HSE website.

There is no disputing that expert and appropriate training is a key component in optimising productivity, as well as ensuring site safety. As a campaigning and pro-active accrediting body we take it as an encouraging sign that significantly more UK truck users are recognising the need to ensure operators are suitably trained for the type of truck as well as the type of work. 

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