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No such thing as a lift truck ‘licence’: how to confirm driver competence

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Search the job adverts for lift truck operator vacancies and chances are you’ll come across, “FORK LIFT LICENCE REQUIRED” or “NEEDS FLT LICENCE”. That would be a perfectly understandable request for would-be applicants… if it wasn’t for the fact that, in the UK, the forklift licence is a myth. There’s actually no such thing.

In fact, a review of advertisements undertaken by the Fork Lift Truck Association found that, despite this, 85% of adverts declared licences as a requirement for successful applicants.

Indeed, as a forklift training provider, we’re often asked about lift truck licences and how long they last. But such a document doesn’t actually exist.

So, without a ‘licence’, how do employers confirm an operator’s skill levels?

Well, when employers request a licence, they are likely referring to a certificate of training. In the UK, any operator undergoing formal training should receive a certificate demonstrating that they have successfully completed basic training on the specified category of truck. So the best way to confirm an operator’s standards is by checking any certification that they hold, and supplementing this with an assessment of their current operator skills.

However, beware – not all certificates are as valuable as others. You see, any forklift training provider can issue such documents but – to ensure that the training carried out meets the standards set by the HSE – you should look for courses that meet an accredited standard.

Crucially, training accredited by any of the organisations that make up the Accrediting Bodies Association (ABA), such as AITT or RTITB, will meet the legal and safety requirements outlined by the Approved Code of Practice (L117).

With this in mind, those needing to check operators’ credentials might ask: “What are the real differences between a certificate and a licence for me, as an employer?”

Forklift licence vs certificate of training

Unlike licences, certificates don’t have an expiry date. For this reason, L117 recommends that refresher training should be provided to operators every 3-5 years, depending on company policy (this will vary according to frequency of use, near misses, etc.)

This will ensure your operators’ skills are kept ‘fresh’, limiting the development of complacency and dangerous habits. It also demonstrates to staff, tangibly, that you are investing in them, which benefits their motivation and your bottom line, since countless studies have shown that safe, skilled operators are the most productive.

Another crucial difference between certification and licences is that licences ultimately belong to drivers, whereas employers, as the ones who fund staff training, are not obliged to issue copies of training certificates to operators to take with them to their next employer.

This, coupled with the array of substandard, non-accredited courses on the market, means there’s no guarantee that a new starter to your company will come armed with suitable qualifications and documentation.

So it’s vital that you assess the credentials and the current skill levels of any operator, before allowing them to start using your MHE. And don’t forget, this includes agency/temporary workers, as your duty of care is the same for them, as it is for permanent staff.

How to check operators’ skills

Confirm new starters’ skill levels in three ways:

  • Check your new operator’s qualifications – do they have a recent certificate of basic training to an accredited standard? If they’ve been trained but don’t have a copy of their certificate, you can confirm this with the ABA
  • Assess their current practical skills
  • Ensure that all three elements of lift truck training detailed in L117 are completed; not just basic training but job specific and familiarisation, to ensure they are safe to start work on your site, with your equipment.

In summary, since there’s no such thing as a lasting, universal forklift licence, it’s critical, as an employer, that you confirm operator standards to ensure new employees understand how to work safety on your site, and provide regular refresher training to ensure they continue to do so.

Remember, there may not be a licence for operators, but that doesn’t give you licence to let standards slip.

For further advice on checking operator credentials, contact us.

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