Smooth operators

To operate a crane or a grader, your operator has to train... on a fork lift truck. We find out why, and examine how relevant the process is.

COURSES: The training required throughout the UAE to obtain a grade-7 or 8 licence requires the operator to drive a fork-lift truck.
COURSES: The training required throughout the UAE to obtain a grade-7 or 8 licence requires the operator to drive a fork-lift truck.

To operate a crane or a grader, your operator has to train... on a fork lift truck. We find out why, and examine how relevant the process is.

Training operators in the UAE has never been harder - or unless you drive a wheeled loader or a fork lift - less relevant.

Before anyone can legally operate a crane, or indeed any other piece of equipment, they need a category seven or eight licence. Currently, under the law in Dubai the would-be driver has to undergo a series of lessons on a Nissan counterbalance fork-lift, in which the driver has to manoeuvre into tight spaces, learn to balance loads and execute tight turns.

The training takes a minimum of forty sessions and only then can he put in for a test for the category seven licence.

All fine and good - except the licence then allows the operator to drive whatever type of vehicle which falls into the weight category. Peter Richardson, General Manager- Technical and Operations Emirates Driving Institute explained; "Generally speaking the requirement in the UAE to have a licence is of either category is an irony that most people will train to drive a fork lift and then go on to drive a completely different vehicle.

But within that weight category, which bears little resemblance to it, so it could be a loader or a crane.

The training is not invalid, however as Richardson points out "It is to a degree it is a formality, but in reality there are many different fork lift drivers in warehouses. It would be wrong to say that there aren't fork drivers, doing what they are trained to do."

It can also be difficult developing specific training; however as many of the region's machines have been constructed to perform a specific task. Richardson points out; "A man will come in to train for the category of licence that the law requires that he has so that he can go back to his company and then very often he is trained to drive that specific, often bespoke, piece of machinery.

"A good example is a company like Duval, who have a number of specific-role vehicles. Some of them are massive, multi-axle articulated machines and they do particular roles like pushing vats of aluminium to a centre. But they have gone out with a category of licence.

"They'll obtain that category of license and frankly, they'll probably never drive that category of vehicle again. But they will then be trained in house to drive their bespoke bit of machinery. That's another stage of their development.

However, tight budgets and a chronic shortage of operators is forcing many project managers to think twice about providing adequate training on any specific piece of machinery, according to John Alexander, Director, Safety Plus.


There's just a shortage of people and (site managers) need somebody on the machine rather than sending them off for training. They need training, but nobody is really asking for it.

He added "If you know how to drive a fork lift truck, that's good enough to drive a crane in the Emirate of Dubai.

Language can be another barrier to successful training, as there is no requirement for trainees to be conversant in English or Arabic. John Alexander said "We get drivers mostly from India and Pakistan, and language is the main obstacle.

This is not insurmountable. EDI employ instructors who can do their best to communicate with the trainees in their own language. Majeed Fakhruddin, an instructor with the company said; "We have staff whose first languages are English and Arabic as well as people from India and Pakistan so we can generally find a way around it.

Those in a position to be able to buy brand new equipment might find the adequate training somewhat better. Arif Chrishty, General manager, FAMCO, a Volvo Construction dealer said "It is a requirement of us to train the customer's operator on every piece of equipment we deliver."

He added, "The operator might well have been using a similar machine before, but very often we find they are used to very old machines and ways.

"We impart that training and in fact we move one step ahead. If the operator changes during the life cycle of that machine we will train the new operator. Also, there is technical competency training. The company has a training centre in Jebel Ali where technicians learn about the way the machine runs.

However, the majority of developments in the region make do with old machinery and minimal equipment-specific training. This has lead to a run of accidents recently, mostly involving cranes. One recent example resulted in eight deaths when a crane banged into a building, shedding its load.

Happily, there is light on the horizon. The training, on the fork-lifts at least, will be widened to include more general instruction.

Peter Richardson said "We've looked quite closely at the level we are training at and whilst the delivery is good, it could be a bit more specific in relation to the dynamics and the physics of the operation of it.

He added "There are a lot of health and safety issues that could and should be addressed. and are very keen to bring to the fore."


This change is being driven by site managers, according to Richardson. "We get quite a bit of feedback from our own customers that whilst they are happy with the training that their people get, it doesn't necessarily reflect the day to day operations that people are expected to carry out.

"When we have a company client, we have a close record of the relationship with their health and safety and their operating managers, but we are very clear to review if the training actually meets their needs."

He added "On one hand it does as it makes them lawful and meets their basic needs, but the actual operation sometimes will require more.

Training tailored for specific machines is one of the subjects being discussed at the Saudi Cranes and PMV show, to be held in Damman, KSA 28 April. Conference director Kimon Alexandrou said; "We are holding a forum with a lot of the major contractors in the region, as well as five equipment manufacturers.

"One of the panels will talk about the costs of taking short-cuts in training, with losses in operating time, injury and in the worse case scenario, death.

"There will also be safety and training case studies, with several contractors giving us their experiences from the field" he said.

With the issue of training finally being discussed, there is every chance that more relevant training will become mandatory soon.

The courses in detail

The Light Forklifts course prepares a student for the Traffic Police Driving Test, enabling students to get a Dubai Driving License category 7. Students completing this course and passing the Dubai Police Tests are licensed to drive light forklifts.

There are forty sessions in the course provided by EDI and students will have lessons on engine and loading capacity, the different types of levers along with their controls and how to operate in different working areas and in various weather conditions.

Lately a focus on how to reduce maintenance expenses, increase efficiency, reduce accidents and improve operating skills, form part of the course. Students are taught in detail about weight control and how to load various kinds of materials and at which angle will the load be adjustable.

The Heavy Forklifts and Shovels course is broadly similar, but there is some practical use of a wheel loader involved. This more expensive option also teaches students about bucket control, weight distrubution and the like. On this course the would-be operators work towards a grade-8 licence, which is the heaviest catagory.

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