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Forklift training keeps workers safe and employers within OSHA compliance

Forklifts or powered industrial trucks are commonly used pieces of equipment in many industries. They move heavy and often cumbersome materials or items from one place to another, stack items on top of each other or in storage racks, and load and unload trucks. Manufacturers design their forklifts for drivers to use safely.

Mark Leon

Mark Leon
Safety and Health Consultant

However, I have seen forklifts driven like go-karts to race up and down loading docks, to lift people to higher levels to perform work, and even to support ladders on pallets. Regardless of how they are used, forklifts can cause serious and even fatal injuries if the operators are not properly trained. In fact, powered industrial trucks in general industry (29 CFR 1910.178) ranked eighth as one of OSHA’s most frequently cited standards in fiscal year 2010.

What does OSHA require for forklift training? First and foremost, it is a violation of federal law for anyone under the age of 18 to operate a forklift or for anyone over the age of 18 who is not properly trained and certified to do so. Employers must develop and implement a training program based on safe truck operation general principles, vehicle types being used in the workplace, workplace hazards created by the vehicle’s use, and general safety requirements of the OSHA standard. Trained operators must know how to do the job properly and safely as demonstrated by workplace evaluation. Formal (lecture, video, etc.) and practical (demonstration and practical exercises) training must be provided.

In addition to training, employers must certify that each operator has received proper training and evaluate the operator at least once every three years. Prior to operating the truck in the workplace, the employer must evaluate the operator’s performance and determine the operator to be competent to operate a powered industrial truck safely. Refresher training is needed whenever an operator demonstrates a deficiency in the truck’s safe operation. In fact, USF SafetyFlorida suggests that employers go beyond what the standard requires and provide annual training to ensure operators are in compliance.

Forklift training and evaluation must be conducted by a competent person, someone with the necessary knowledge, training and experience to train powered industrial truck operators and evaluate their competence. Some employers feel more comfortable paying an outside source to provide the necessary training and certifications. There is nothing wrong with using an outside source, but smaller companies with limited budgets may find it difficult to pay for outside training. A competent person can save a business money and time. Keep in mind that even if an employee has received training elsewhere, it is still the employer’s responsibility to ensure training is provided that is specific to the tasks performed at the current business.

There are many resources available to the employer if he or she chooses not to perform the training themselves. Truck manufacturers, local safety and health safety organizations, such as National Safety Council local chapters, private consultants with expertise in powered industrial trucks, and local trade and vocational schools are some of the different available resources.

Various Internet sites are devoted to forklift safety. Private companies that provide forklift safety training services, including videos and written programs, can be found online, and most videos can be either leased or purchased. We offer 10 forklift safety videos you can borrow at no charge. It is important to remember, however, that showing employees a video(s) on some aspect of forklift safety does not meet the full requirements of the OSHA standard. Site specific information must be conveyed as well as a method to evaluate the employee’s acquired knowledge subsequent to the training. And if your company needs a written safety plan(s) to include forklift driving safety instructions, our SafetyWriter program can help. Visit www.usfsafetyflorida.com and click on method #2 to review and select from a wide range of important forklift safety instructions for your safety plan. For OSHA information about powered industrial trucks used in general industry, construction and the maritime industry, visit its website here.