Are your returning operators safe to start work?

10th June 2020

As the country begins to take steps out of lockdown, many employers are in the process of returning staff to work and putting various measures in place for the safety of their teams.

We always recommend following government and HSE guidance to reduce the risk of spreading infection and keep staff safe at work, but to supplement this, we have put together specific advice for those who will be returning MHE operators to their posts.

Here are some things to consider before reinstating access to equipment:

1. Assess operator skills

Depending on how long an operator has been away from their normal role, it may be advisable to evaluate their current skill levels. This is to ensure no skill-fade has taken place during recent months, which could result in unsafe operation. Assessments can be carried out in-house by a qualified, competent person, or by an external provider.

2. Identify training needs

Once the operator has been assessed, any training requirements will be highlighted. If they have missed any refresher training during lockdown, this will need to be arranged, where possible (the HSE have issued guidance regards any required extensions to refresher periods during the outbreak – more on this here).

Many businesses will also have altered site layouts and processes to incorporate social distancing, and there may be new COVID-19 safety measures that the operator has to follow, including new Safe Systems of Work. All of this will likely affect the operator’s daily tasks and route around the site. Job-specific and familiarisation training will be key here, to help the operator get up to speed on how to complete their duties within the context of their updated site. More information on all essential elements of forklift training can be found in Approved Code of Practice L117.

3. Train safely

Any MHE operator training that takes place will need to be done in a safe way that aligns with government and HSE guidance. Social distancing must be maintained at all times and precautions taken to protect everyone from the risk of infection. The AITT have produced detailed guidance on safe training methods during the COVID-19 outbreak, including:

  • During classroom training: candidates should not share items such as pens or notebooks, and hand washing facilities must be available
  • During practical training: all equipment must be sanitised before it is touched, or candidates must wear single-use disposable gloves

4. Recommission the equipment

If equipment has been stood down during the past few weeks, it will need to be prepared for reintroduction to service, instructions for which will be included in the operator manual. A Thorough Examination Report will show whether an inspection is due – CFTS have prepared a ‘Practical 3-Point Plan’ to help ensure forklift trucks are safe and ready to use again.

Make sure that the equipment is also cleaned thoroughly before it is used and then between users. Guidance on appropriate MHE cleaning methods is available from BITA here.

5. Supervise operations

Once MHE operators are familiar with new processes and authorised to use the equipment again, they can commence their duties. But it is vital that managers and supervisors monitor trained staff to ensure that safety continues to be upheld day-to-day. Where there are any instances of unsafe practice, operators must be corrected to make sure bad habits don’t spread throughout the workforce and become accepted as the norm.

The HSE makes specific reference to this in their recent COVID-19 guidance document, stating: “[Employers or duty holders] should also be able to demonstrate that they are meeting their legal duty to monitor and supervise lift truck drivers to ensure that they continue to operate safely.”

For more information, please contact us or visit our News pages for the latest guidance and resources.


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