The combination of a fast-paced workplace with machine operators at the controls of vehicles they don’t necessarily understand, carrying out work they are not familiar with could be, and sadly often is, catastrophic.
“It’s a common story that employers believe their operators to be qualified once they have attended and passed Basic Operator Training,” says Laura Nelson, Managing Director at RTITB. “But the fact is that, no matter how good the Basic Training is, it must be backed up by Specific Job and Familiarisation Training before the individual is authorised by the employer to operate in their workplace.”
So what are the stages of operator training?
Basic Operator Training
Basic Operator Training is, as the name suggests, just that. It’s important to note that Basic Operator Training should always take place ‘off the job’. Any individual attending Basic Operator Training will learn the basic practical skills of operating a lift truck – simple manoeuvring and basic hydraulic controls – and gain an understanding of the principles governing safe operation.
As well as learning to operate the machine, operators will also learn about the risks and hazards associated with operation. Also covered during this training are important skills such as pre-use inspection and routine basic maintenance like refuelling or battery care.
“Basic Operator Training is the foundation,” explains Nelson. “It provides a solid base upon which more specific training can be built.”
Specific Job Training
Specific Job Training is where context is added to the basic skills learnt in the first stage of training. This is where the operator learns about the operating principles specific to the equipment they will be using, with focus on any attachments they might use.
“The operator will learn about the layout and configuration of the controls in the type of machine they will be using – after all, who’s to say that the machine they used in Basic Operating Training is identical to the machine they will be using day-to-day?” explains Nelson.
But it’s not all about the machine by this stage; during Specific Job training the individual will learn about conditions they are likely to encounter at work – for example confined areas, the racking system, cold stores, other vehicles and the surfaces they’ll be operating on. Importantly, during Specific Job Training, the individual will also be instructed on site rules such as speed limits, pedestrian areas, traffic flow and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
As with Basic Operator Training, Specific Job Training must take place away from the job. It is often combined with Basic Operator Training and can be theoretical or practical, depending on the availability of safe and appropriate training areas.
This is closely supervised training that introduces the operator to the ‘live work’ environment for the first time. This is where the skills and knowledge that have been gained over the first two stages of training begin to be put to use in the workplace. The operator starts with simple tasks and builds towards more complex procedures, allowing them to develop their skills and build their confidence.
As with stage two, site layout and rules form an important part of Familiarisation training. It is also often the case that the ‘off-the-job’ nature of Specific Job Training makes instruction in some elements of the site impossible. This is the time to cover those.
Only once all three stages of training are completed satisfactorily and recorded should an ‘Authorisation to Operate’ be issued. This is issued by the employer and it is their acknowledgement that the individual is qualified to operate specific equipment, within a specific environment. Briefly looking at the three essential stages of initial training, it is clear to see how Basic Training on its own could leave an operator inexperienced and out of their depth when faced with operating in the live environment.
“These three parts of the training process are hugely important when it comes to the safety and security of staff, as well as stock and equipment,” says Nelson. “Operator training is an on-going process that doesn’t just stop at Basic Operator Training, or even Specific Job and Familiarisation. When you consider the vital role of ongoing supervision, assessment and Refresher training in maintaining competence you can see that employers and operators alike have an obligation to keep training at the heart of workplace safety.”