OSHA training standard to save lives, reduce injuries

Federal safety officials predict that 11 deaths and 9,500 injuries will be prevented, and $135 million in employer costs will be saved each year, as the result of new safety training requirements for operators of forklifts and other powered industrial trucks. Because the new standards require more training and certification of workers, they also could represent a new consulting opportunity for occupational health providers.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released the training standards for the more than 1.5 million workers who operate such equipment. The new training standards apply to operators in general industry and in the construction and maritime (shipyards, longshoring, and marine terminals) industries. Each year, about 100 workers are killed and almost 95,000 injured in industrial truck accidents, OSHA reports.

Of the estimated $135 million in annual savings, $83 million will be saved in reduced direct costs such as medical savings, administration of workers’ compensation, and value of lost output. Another $52 million annually will be saved in reduced accident-related property damage. There will be a cost, however. Total costs of compliance are estimated at $16.9 million annually.

The new requirements apply to powered industrial trucks used to carry, push, pull, lift, stack or tier material, but not to vehicles used for earth moving or over-the-road hauling. The new standards require a training program 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.

Evaluation of each operator’s performance is required as part of the initial and refresher training and, thereafter, at least once every three years.

OSHA adopted its former powered industrial truck standards in 1971, and the recent changes amount to the first major overhaul of the requirements. Since 1971, various organizations and individuals, including members of Congress, have asked OSHA to improve its training requirements for powered industrial truck operators. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers in New York substantially upgraded its training provisions for such operators and the Industrial Truck Association in Washington, DC, whose members manufacture the trucks, petitioned OSHA to revise its training requirements.

The new standards are published in the Dec. 1, 1998, Federal Register. (See editor’s note at the end of this story for information on how to access.) States and territories with their own occupational safety and health plans are to adopt comparable standards within six months. The effective date for the standards is March 1, 1999. The training and evaluation of employees who are hired before Dec. 1, 1999, must be completed by Dec. 1, 1999. The training and evaluation of employees hired after Dec. 1, 1999, must be completed before the employee is assigned to operate a powered industrial truck.

These are some highlights of the new standard:

o Operator selection. The employer must ensure that the employee is competent to operate a powered industrial truck, as demonstrated by successful completion of a training program and evaluation.

o Training program implementation. The training shall include formal instruction (e.g., lecture, discussion, interactive computer learning, videotape, written material), practical training (demonstrations performed by the trainer and practical exercises performed by the trainee), and evaluation of the operator’s performance in the workplace.

o Training program content. Topics to be covered in initial training are listed in the standards.

o Periodic evaluation and refresher training. Sufficient evaluation and refresher training must be conducted to enable the employee to retain and use the knowledge and skills needed to operate the powered industrial truck safely. An evaluation of each operator’s performance must be conducted at least every three years. Refresher training is required for any of the following reasons:

— 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 additional training;
— there are changes in the workplace that could affect safe operation of the truck;
— the operator is assigned to a different type of truck.

o No duplicative training. An employee who has received training and been found by an evaluation to be competent to perform the duties of an operator does not have to be retrained at specified intervals. However, all new operators must have their performance evaluated.

o Certification. The employer must certify that the training and evaluation have been done.

o Common hazards. Hazards commonly associated with powered industrial trucks vary for different vehicle types, makes, and models. For example, a counterbalanced high lift rider truck is more likely to be involved in a falling load accident than a motorized hand truck because the rider truck can lift a load much higher than a hand truck. The methods or means of preventing accidents and protecting an employee from injury also vary for different types of trucks. For example, to protect the driver of a rider truck in a tip-over accident, the operator should be trained to remain in the operator’s position and to lean away from the direction of fall to minimize the potential for injury.

[Editor’s note: The Federal Register notice can be found on the Internet at http://www.nara.gov/fedreg/index.html. For more information, call (301) 713-6000. Most public libraries also have the Federal Register.]