Forklifts are complicated and potentially dangerous vehicles, and as such should only be driven by trained operators. Despite this fact, it’s not unheard of for untrained employees to try to use forklifts, greatly increasing the risk of onsite accidents.

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.178(l) requires proper forklift safety training for any employee driving a powered industrial truck (the technical term for a forklift). Penalties and fines for violating forklift operating procedures vary, but can be as high as $250,000. In some cases, violating OSHA’s forklift regulations can result in imprisonment.

Isn’t a Driver’s License Sufficient?

In a word, no. While many people assume they can drive a forklift if they can possess a driver’s license, a forklift is very different from a car or truck. The steer wheels of a forklift are in the back of the vehicle, not the front. Stability issues when loading, transporting, and unloading items require proper training to be handled safely, especially if the forklift is operated on a slope or uneven surface.

Types of Forklifts

Powered industrial trucks (forklifts) come in several types, including:

  • Counterbalance Forklifts
  • Narrow-Aisle Lift Truck
  • Order Pickers
  • Pallet Jacks
  • Tow Vehicles
  • Rough Terrain Forklifts

Forklifts may be powered by internal combustion engines or electric batteries (electric forklifts are popular choices for warehouse and indoor applications). Obtaining certification with one type of forklift does not mean an employee can operate all types. A separate certification is required for each type of truck.

Forklift Safety Training

To be certified to drive a forklift, an employee must complete appropriate forklift training and an evaluation of his or her skills. Thorough knowledge of forklift operating procedures is required, including pre-shift maintenance, safety steps, and forklift operation. Training is performed under the supervision of an individual who has the knowledge and experience required to safely and effectively train and evaluate others.

Teaching Forklift Operating Procedures

Forklift safety training is broken down into two sections: formal discussion and practical training. Formal discussion may take the form of online forklift certification, lectures, videos, written materials, discussions, and web-based learning. Practical training includes demonstrations of forklift operating procedures by the trainer and practical training exercises for the employee that cover such considerations as:

  • Hazardous locations,
  • Load stability,
  • Narrow aisle operations,
  • Pedestrian awareness,
  • Ramps and surfaces affecting stability,
  • Stacking and unstacking loads,
  • Surface conditions.

How often is Forklift Safety Refresher Training Required?

OSHA provides no specific timeline for forklift operation refresher training. Employers can insist on refresher training whenever they feel the need, and must offer refresher courses if any of the following conditions are met:

  • The employee operates the forklift in an unsafe manner,
  • Accidents or near misses occur,
  • Employee evaluations reveal the need for refresher training,
  • The employee is assigned to a different type of forklift, or,
  • Workplace conditions change to a degree where safe forklift operation is compromised.

While OSHA does not oversee refresher courses, it does offer a firm timeline for employee evaluations. All certified operators must be evaluated on forklift operating procedures and safety by a qualified individual every three years.

Documenting Forklift Certification

Forklift certifications and evaluations should be carefully documented. Should documentation not be available at OSHA’s required, penalties and fines can occur. Documentation and certification should include:

  • Employee name,
  • The date of training,
  • Evaluation dates,
  • The name of the person or organization who performed training or evaluations.

Online Forklift Certification

While practical, hands-on forklift safety training requires an on-site trainer, formal discussion can be completed through online forklift certification programs. TPC Training offers two types of online forklift certification: Forklift/Powered Industrial Truck Safety and Forklift Safety: Industrial Counterbalance Lift Trucks.

A forklift in untrained hands is an accident waiting to happen. Certified operators trained in forklift operating procedures help keep your workplace as safe as possible.  

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