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Home / Blogs / Nick Welch: Switching counterbalance power source? Don’t forget the training!

Nick Welch: Switching counterbalance power source? Don’t forget the training!

Blogs | 7th Jun 2017
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If you are replacing or updating your counterbalance lift truck fleet you might be changing from electric powered trucks to internal combustion engine models (or vice versa). If so, there is one very important consideration that is all too often ignored: training.

Maybe you’re thinking, “my lift truck operators are already trained to operate a counterbalance truck, how different can it be?”. However, it’s easy to forget that if you’re moving from electric trucks to LPG or diesel, there are some key operational differences so you’ll need to update your operators’ training to keep your team safe.

Updated training is also necessary to comply with the law. The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 states: [The] Regulations require that: users, supervisors, and managers have received adequate training for the purposes of health and safety including:

·         Training in the methods which may be adopted when using work equipment

·         Any risks which such use may entail

·         Precautions to take

Let’s look at each element in turn.

“Training in the methods which may be adopted when using work equipment…”

There are more differences between differently powered trucks than you at first realise. For example, pre-use inspections, power source replenishment, hydraulic control usage, responsiveness and speed of the truck are all very different in electric, LPG and diesel trucks.

Consider the importance of placing the truck in neutral and applying the park brake before operating the hydraulics in an electric scenario. Now imagine operating a diesel truck where the use of the accelerator enhances the operation of the hydraulics. This one simple example shows why training is critical for ensuring that operators are aware of the different methods required, therefore ensuring you comply with PUWER.

“Any risks which such use may entail…”

Power source replenishment is another area where the risks differ between truck types. With an electric truck, there are risks related to battery acid and the safe use of electricity, while for diesel trucks there can be issues relating to the fumes, skin contact, and the environmental cost of spillages and clean-up. For LPG, the pressurised nature of the fuel, plus the dangers of cold burns through skin contact, are a concern. There are also arguably more manual handling risks associated with refuelling LPG trucks.

None of these issues are beyond control but they all illustrate again why operators need training when switching from one power source to another. As an employer, you’re also required to do this training so that operators have an appreciation of the risks associated with the equipment they are using.

“Precautions to take”

Simply educating your counterbalance lift truck operators about the risks is not enough. Ask yourself, how can the risks be minimised? What are the symptoms that something is wrong? And what steps should be taken if something does go wrong?

For instance, electric truck operators should know how the smell of sulphur could indicate a serious fault with battery, in which case the truck should be immediately put out of service.  Training can also show them the minimum personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements when working with batteries and steps to take in the event of exposure to acid.

Diesel counterbalance truck operators should be aware that diesel contact with the eyes or skin will require immediate rinsing with clean water. Likewise, they should understand which PPE is required and why, and, importantly, users of diesel equipment must know the steps to take in the event of a spillage, and reporting procedures.

LPG counterbalance operators will need training in correct manual handling techniques and PPE requirements (neoprene gloves, for example, rather than fabric gloves). Plus, they need to know which way up the bottle should be placed, how to spot LPG leaks and how the bottle is correctly secured to the truck.

This is just a short introduction to some of the considerations when switching truck power types and you may need to make a more detailed assessment of the differences and the levels of risk to establish your training needs.

But remember, operator training is almost always needed to remain legally compliant, and, perhaps more importantly, your operators always need to be correctly trained so that they can keep themselves and their colleagues safe.