By K C Pawling, Road Safety and Loss Prevention Specialist

I’ve recently read a couple of articles about machinery-related fatalities. The first article addressed an accident that occurred when a second rider was on an industrial forklift. The second rider was thrown from the side of the machine where he was riding and died after being run over by the forklift. The second article discussed the recent findings of the MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) that machinery-related fatalities have shown an upward trend in 2022.

Both articles mentioned lack of operator training as a possible cause of machinery-related fatalities. One article referred to an inability to find any documented training completed by the operator involved. If I have conducted any training in your county, you have heard me stress, “if it isn’t documented it didn’t happen.” So now I ask (for some of you, again), are you documenting the training of your employees?

When we talk about training, I am not referring to showing a new operator the controls of the machine necessary to make it move. This is what I would consider orientation, not operation training. Orientation is important because all operators need to understand the machine and all the components that make it function, but they also need to know where the oil dipstick is. This is important from not only an operational standpoint but also for loss prevention. We do NOT want to use the “figure it out” approach that we sometimes hear about in road departments.

Now when we speak of training for the safe and effective operation of a machine, this includes orientation of the machine but also some “seat time.” You should have an experienced operator, one with verified and documented hours of machine operation, providing the training. Your employee trainer should focus on the basic operation of the machine, with some practice in the county yard if possible. This will give the trainee the opportunity to acquire some “seat time.” With the “seat time” they will relax and be more open to any coaching that the more experienced operator will give. Start simple—speed and efficiency will come later. You really need to focus on safe machine operation.

I would also like to point out that you should not be using any machine in a manner different than how it was intended to be used. This was also noted as a cause of the machine-related fatality described in the article that I referenced earlier. The piece of equipment was not being operated as outlined by the manufacturer. You can find the proper use of the machine in the operator’s manual provided by your equipment dealer.

It is not a difficult task to document operator training. One suggestion is to create a simple Word document recording the name of the operator, date, and type of training that has been provided. It is also good to document how much time was devoted to the training. Along with your employee’s daily log of road department activities, this documentation would show the total amount of time that an employee has spent operating a particular piece of equipment, which can be useful evidence when and if a claim arises. The training documentation should be kept in an employee’s file, along with the employee’s profile. Ideally, your employee documentation is updated continuously and checked for completeness at least annually.

When I speak to the loss prevention side of the business, I am speaking two-fold. Hopefully we are helping to avert any employee-related loss, which could be an injury or even a loss of life. Also, there are possible losses related to any machine damage and downtime. If a situation arises where we need to prove training and equipment experience, we want to have that information recorded and in the employee’s personnel file.

I understand that some of you are saying to yourselves, “ah geez this is just more paperwork to do,” and I understand your feelings. At the end of the day, though, it is up to you as managers AND employees to make sure all operators are doing their jobs safely and responsibly. No one can do this for you! Take the time necessary to do the training and create the documentation to show it is completed. Let’s make sure we all make it home every night.

If you have any questions or concerns, let me know, I am here to help. I can be reached at or 402-310-4417, call or text.