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Practice operation is not a step that can be skipped

Monday, October 30, 2017

No matter what country you reside in or what vehicle you operate, there are some universal parts to any vehicle safety training. These parts are not difficult to complete, but they must all be done well and taken seriously.

  • Classroom instruction or formalized learning
  • Practice operation under direct supervision and in a safe area
  • Hands on evaluation of operating skills
  • Periodic re-evaluation
  • Enforcement of the rules for safe operation

Let’s take a closer look at one part; practice operation.

When companies train people to run production equipment, how long do they typically spend ensuring the employee is properly trained? I know many companies that spend several days to several months teaching their people the finer points of how to run production equipment so they can do it efficiently, safely and productively. They fully understand that tossing someone on a machine tool with little to no practice is a recipe for damaging the machine, running endless scrap and maybe injuring the worker; so they would never think of doing it.

I have seen the same companies take a new person, show them a short video (not a good way to fulfill the classroom requirement, by the way) and put them on a forklift with little to no practice time with a warning not to “Do anything stupid.” What they are saying is the company expects them to learn on their own, hoping they don’t injure themselves or someone else in the process.

What if we had the same attitude towards practice for trainees becoming doctors, airline pilots, over the road truck drivers? Pretty scary when you look at it that way, isn’t it? Especially when you figure forklifts, even small ones, weigh about 10,000 pounds and carry two sharpened spears up front. What is the solution to this problem?

Two things, sufficient time allotment and the right trainers/mentors. Companies must include sufficient time between hiring people and putting them into production on a forklift, allowing for sufficient practice time to get them safely up to speed. The exact time frame will depend on many factors including any prior experience, type of forklifts used, application, coordination of the operator, etc. Second, is getting the right folks to work with our new people. Traits for people providing practice operation to forklift trainees should include:

  • They must be skilled on the equipment they are training others to use.
  • They must be familiar with the application, loads and facility rules.
  • They need to be properly trained as a trainer/mentor.
  • They must believe in the value of what they are doing.
  • They must take the time to do things correctly/safely every time.
  • They must care about their co-workers.
  • They must take pride in helping others better themselves.
  • They must feel comfortable providing honest feedback.
  • They must have lots of patience.

As you can see, finding the right people will not be cheap or easy, but it will be worth it when you are turning out well trained and productive forklift operators.

Written by Brian Colburn of Forklift Training Systems, a leading provider of forklift safety training and materials. Forklift Training Systems can be contacted at 614-583-5749 or at Visit them on the web at