Making the Case for Conversion Training

There are scenarios where conversion could be deemed unnecessary, but equally there are those occasions when it very much should be considered. So how do you decide?

The HSE’s L117: Rider Operated Lift Trucks – Operator Training and Safe Use offers some guidance on this issue:
It is likely to be appropriate for an operator to go through conversion training where, for example, they are already trained on a counterbalance truck (for example electric, small) but want to operate a significantly larger or more powerful counterbalance truck.

Most employers recognise the need for adequate operator training to ensure competency, and most appreciate the difference between one type of truck and another, but at what point does ‘significant difference’ occur and what does this mean?

In a previous post on this column (‘Changes in Rated Capacity, 14th Feb, 2012), I discussed the need for conversion training with an operator moving from a small, 1,000 kg-rated capacity electric counterbalance to a larger, 6,000 kg diesel counterbalance. In this case, according to the Approved Code of Practice (ACoP), conversion training would clearly be necessary.

Now, consider a slightly different scenario: Imagine an operator trained on a 1,500 kg-rated capacity electric counterbalance truck moving to a 2,000 kg model. Does this smaller difference in size qualify as a significant difference?
It could reasonably be argued that this difference is not enough to necessitate conversion training. However, even in circumstances where conversion training is not deemed necessary, the employer still has an obligation to provide the operator with Specific Job and Familiarisation training on the larger vehicle.

Now take the analogy one step further. If we’ve already established that Specific Job and Familiarisation training will suffice to cater for the 500 kg increase in rated capacity, what happens if a whole new attachment that the operator is unfamiliar with is added to the vehicle? Does this constitute a significant difference and is conversion training therefore necessary? The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 tell us:
[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

This being the case, an operator confronted with a totally new piece of equipment in the form of an attachment, regardless of their familiarity with the machine to which it is to be fitted, will need conversion training in order for them to operate it safely and competently.

When conversion training is undertaken, it should follow the same format as the basic operator training that the operator underwent for their existing machine type, because as well as more obvious differences such as attachments, size and motive power, the new truck may also have significantly different controls and application – this can be true even of machines of the same type. Furthermore, as is the case with basic operator training, conversion training must always be validated. All operators should undergo a basic operator skills test. After successful completion of training, the operator should receive Specific Job and Familiarisation training.

You can see that there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer here. The requirement for conversion training can only be determined after a very careful assessment of the complex variables that make up the individual situation and the risks involved.

That being said, the best and most sensible course is always to err on the side of caution. After all, extra training can only benefit an operator’s skills and development, not to mention overall safety in the workplace; lack of training can have disastrous consequences for the operator and anybody else potentially affected by the work they do.

Perhaps the debate comes down to a much more straightforward question: Is it acceptable to risk safety for the sake of some additional training?