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From untrained to over-confident – how safe are your operators?

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How comfortable are your operators with their daily work? Do they sometimes face tasks they are unfamiliar with? Or do they regularly repeat the same jobs they’ve done for years?

Either case presents its own risks and must be carefully managed to keep accidents to a minimum. Here we explore both ends of the spectrum, from the under-trained to the over-confident, and explain how regular monitoring helps ensure everyone is working safely.

The untrained eye…

All too often, we see new tasks cause costly accidents because they are not safely managed. A simple change to equipment, working environment or load type brings new operating conditions or characteristics that can soon compromise safety if the additional risks aren’t considered.

A recent news report explained how an unplanned task, with no prior training or SSOW in place, led an employee to be crushed to death on a construction site.

Accidents often occur when operators carry out tasks they don’t frequently do, as they likely don’t have the training or experience to deal with the situation safely. Those who don’t understand how a new task could affect lifting capacity or truck stability are at risk of lost loads and tip overs, ultimately resulting in costly damage and serious injuries.

And according to a recent survey into UK businesses, operating outside of existing Safe Systems of Work (SSOW) and training provision is a real problem in the industry today. According to findings of our Forklift Safety Insights report, many businesses utilising forklift trucks had seen changes in their working practices since their operators last received training:

  • New loads 32 percent said operators dealt with an increased range of loads since they last had training.
  • Changing environments17 percent said their operators’ working environment now differed from the one in which they were last trained.
  • Different equipment or applications11 percent said their equipment was being used for a different application than the one they were trained for.


(NB: It’s also worth bearing in mind that these are likely ‘best case’ figures, from businesses who represent the top end of the safety spectrum, as they are based on respondents who actively volunteered information for our survey.)

Put simply, if operators do not receive additional training when their job changes then they are no longer equipped with the skills and knowledge to work safely. This puts them, their colleagues and their business at high risk.

  • To ensure your operation remains safe and efficient, regular monitoring and reviews are key. Your managers play a vital role in limiting risk by ensuring that:
    forklift operators have undergone basic, job-specific and familiarisation training in accordance with L117
  • all relevant parties are fully briefed on any changes that could affect operational safety
  • operations are regularly monitored to ensure that training and Safe Systems of Work (SSOW) are being followed
  • regular reviews of all policies take place, so they remain fit for purpose
  • any operators asked to carry out a task for which they have not been trained, understand that they must not attempt to do so but stop and report to their manager


Overconfidence and complacency

New, ad hoc tasks increase risk as they form a sharp contrast to the routine tasks operators are used to performing day in, day out.

By nature, a forklift operators’ daily duties can become very repetitive and once they become used to always performing the same actions, human behaviour kicks in and they become increasingly comfortable and complacent of the risks involved.

Operators who believe they know a job inside out will start to develop bad habits and unsafe practice soon becomes the accepted working standard. The longer this continues without repercussion, the more they forget how severe the consequences of an accident could be. Best practice must be continually reinforced, as should the risk of serious injury, costly damage, legal action and hefty fines, if it isn’t followed.

It’s vital that regular forklift operator training and monitoring is carried out to ensure best practice sticks. But, again, this seems to be a problem area for many businesses. Over 50 percent of those surveyed said they didn’t carry out regular assessments of operator’s abilities in between refresher training courses, and 13 percent said they had no forklift refresher policy in place, or only retested operators following an accident or incident.

What you can do:

  • Proactively monitor operations to nip unsafe practice in the bud, before it becomes the norm
  • provide refresher training every 3–5 years to remind operators of safe, efficient practice
  • make sure that forklift operator training emphasises the serious consequences of an accident for the operator, their families, colleagues and the business


The role of the manager

No matter what tasks forklift operators perform, or how long they have been doing their jobs, it is the manager’s duty to continually monitor their performance and uphold safety on site. By ensuring that operators stay alert to the risks they face, your managers can play a vital role in helping to prevent accidents, whether it’s the first time or the hundredth time they’ve carried out a task.

To ensure your managers and supervisors have the skills and confidence to proactively uphold safety, compliance and profitability, Mentor’s Managing Forklift Operations course is available face-to-face or as a brand new e-learning course, where delegates can fit online studying around their daily operations.

For more information about identifying and reducing key risks on site, read the full Forklift Safety Insights report here.

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