Beware of Powered Industrial Truck Operator Certification Scams
By: David Hoover, Contributor
It’s a given that every profession has its own training timeframes. For doctors, it’s about 8-10 years, two years/1,500 hours for airline pilots and 12-14 months for welders. Can you guess how long it took me to get a “forklift license” online? It took 23 minutes through one company and 32 minutes with another! We have a growing problem here in America with regards to safety and it’s likely killing and injuring people right now, behind the scenes. Type “one hour forklift certification” into Google and you will see what I am talking about.
I am not against all online training. Some types of training are generic and may lend themselves to this type of format. Fire extinguisher training might be an example of this type of training: “pull, aim, squeeze and sweep” is universal and simple. Powered industrial trucks, or forklifts, are very diverse. There is almost nothing in common between a sit-down propane forklift, an electric pallet jack, a man-up turret truck and a telehandler, other than they all move loads and are power propelled. Trying to provide a single generic training program which covers it all in 32 minutes is like saying there’s a class for airline pilots which covers flying a Cessna, a 747, a F22 Raptor and the Space shuttle, and can be completed by someone with no flight experience in three months.
Training also needs to be site specific. Not only does the hands-on evaluation have to be completed at the employer’s site and on their equipment, but there are many different applications. A retail location, a warehouse, a steel manufacturing plant and a construction site are all very different applications. The training topics covered for them, and the hands-on evaluations completed in them are unique.
Who are these companies targeting? For the most part they are targeting those who are most vulnerable: the unemployed. I get calls nearly every day from unemployed people wanting our company to train them as forklift operators. First off, we NEVER train for individuals (we only train for companies) because we need to know exactly what type of equipment they will be using and what type of application they will use it in. I explain to them that going out on their own to get what these companies are promoting as a “forklift license” is a waste of time and money and that they should apply for non-driving positions to get in the door and then their employers will certify them and pay for their training as well. The other target: small employers with tight budgets and little EHS support, to whom fast and cheap really resonates. If you want to see how extreme things can get Google “Forklift scam KPRC Houston” for an investigative report that will shock you to the core.
Findings from my 23-minute and 32-minute forklift certification experiences:
- The paperwork provided to me and marketing materials on the websites clearly stated that all seven classes of powered industrial trucks were covered by their classroom sessions. However, neither program covered anything of substance about stand-up reach, elevated order pickers, tuggers or telehandlers and only one had some very basic information on pallet jacks — clearly deceptive and dangerous and geared almost completely to sit down riders.
- The sites are magnificently marketed, with amazing graphics and sharp pictures of happy operators with certificates in hand. They have very official-sounding company names, some hinting at an association with the U.S. government or OSHA that doesn’t exist. They have teams working on ensuring they appear at the top of the search engine rankings. The problem is that it is smoke and mirrors with very little substance. Most of them market how fast and easy the process is and promise instant paper documentation, as well as selling upgrades (i.e., putting your picture on the wallet card for only $20 more!) Some name Fortune 500 companies who use their services, but it is my guess that if you call the corporate safety office of those featured companies, 99% of them would not be endorsing this type of 30-minute or less training.
- When you see the words “forklift license,” “OSHA approved” or “OSHA endorsed,” those are huge red flags. OSHA does not approve or endorse any product, service or company in the U.S.— they are in the enforcement business. There is no such thing as a “forklift license” in the U.S. Certification, which OSHA requires from employers for their powered industrial truck operators, means something very different. The wording leads you to believe OSHA is somehow endorsing their company and their training content, I can assure you that is not the case. Call up your OSHA area office and ask them their opinion on 30-minute or less forklift certifications that include all seven classes and see what they say.
- Incomplete and incorrect information. Some of what I found was out of date, some was woefully incomplete and some was just plain inaccurate/misleading. You can’t make up safety rules and statements you think sound good and hold them out as OSHA gospel. Trainees are also able to skip ALL the written information and go right to the written test. There is no way to monitor if they read anything and the questions are too few to ensure comprehension of the material. One site had a 15-minute video, while the other did not have a video at all. Video does work well for things which are hard to describe in a picture, like tip-overs, stability pyramids and accident recreations.
- What if every doctor and airline pilot was provided the answers to their certification exams and no one EVER failed? People would be dying from simple surgical procedures and planes would fall from the sky daily. As a country, we would never fall for that type of nonsense. However, that is the practice of some companies, who provide answers and allow someone to take their tests an “unlimited” number of times! What?? I purposely failed one exam, scoring less than 50% on the first round. I was given all the right answers before taking round two and amazingly, ended up with 100%. Impressive, eh? On the second website, I failed many questions, but was asked to input a different answer over and over until I got the right one. I ended up with 100% correct answers on that one, too.
- Both sites did make brief mentions that hands-on evaluations would need to be done by an employer. However, they lead you to believe that any supervisor or any person is capable of doing the hands-on competency evaluations, which is untrue. Even more, just because a supervisor might in theory be qualified to do an evaluation, it doesn’t mean they will be comfortable taking on that liability or feel qualified to serve as a trainer. OSHA clearly defines who can do the hands-on evaluation in 1910.178(l)(2)(iii).
There may always be people or companies looking for oceanfront property in Ohio and also those willing to try and provide it. Just keep your eyes open and do your homework when it comes to training. Fast and cheap are great in fast food, but not so much with safety training. WMHS
David Hoover is the founder of Forklift Training Systems, a nationwide provider of powered industrial trucks and MEWP train-the-trainer classes, as well as cutting edge forklift and pedestrian safety products (www.forklifttrainingsystems.com).
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