Powered industrial trucks, commonly known as forklifts, are used in a variety of industries. From manufacturing plants to warehouses to construction sites, forklifts are critical pieces of workplace equipment used to raise, lower, and move materials. With their presence being so commonplace it is no surprise how many employers are interested in understanding and providing compliant, effective training for their employees.
Forklift safety training is not only essential for a safe working environment but required under the most recent OSHA regulations. Forklifts are an exceptional tool for efficiency, but they can also be dangerous, damaging, or even deadly. According to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 600 workers perished in forklift accidents from 2011 to 2017, and a further 7,000 suffered injuries that required time away from work.
To start on the path towards developing forklift safety training for your team, you must first understand the OSHA regulations and how to put these rules into action.
Most Recent OSHA Regulations for Forklift Operators
The most recent OSHA regulations for forklift operators were officially published on December 1, 1998. In response to a rise in workplace safety concerns, the new standard was designed to lower workplace injuries and fatalities through quality operator training.
These new regulations went into effect on March 1, 1999 and apply to all industries except for agriculture.
The new regulations are as follows:
- Operator performance must be evaluated before operating an industrial truck, except for when in training
- The employer can designate any employee who is qualified as a Trainer or Evaluator. There are no special requirements for training.
- OSHA does not certify, accredit, or approve any trainers or training programs for powered industrial trucks. The responsibility for compliance with the requirements of the OSHA standard rests with the employer.
In summary: All employers with forklifts or powered industrial trucks outside of agricultural settings must provide OSHA-compliant training for their operators, evaluate operator performance before allowing them to operate the vehicle, and can designate any qualified employee to act as a trainer or evaluator.
Training Requirements Under OSHA Regulations
Under the guidance of OSHA regulations, ensuring that your forklift operators are properly trained is ultimately the responsibility of the employer. This task can be outsourced to outside consultants or pre-developed courses for the classroom portion can be utilized. However, the training provided must adequately prepare your employees for not only general forklift operation, but the unique challenges present in your specific workplace.
Forklift Training Format
Training programs must consist of a combination of formal or classroom-type instruction, using tools such as:
- Lecture formats
- Video formats
- Class discussions and games or activities
- Written materials, worksheets, or training booklets
- Online interactive training
Training must also include a practical, hands-on approach, such as:
- Demonstrations performed by the trainer
- Practical exercises performed, with supervision, by the trainees
- Evaluation of the operator’s performance in the workplace
Trainees participating in hands-on activities can only operate the vehicle as long as it does not endanger them or other employees. This means during the practical portion of training, a safe location should be secured and designated as such to minimize the presence of others in the area. The trainee must also remain supervised at all times during operation until they are certified.
The content of the training program must consist of several topics, such as location-specific hazards and truck-specific topics. If operators are going to use different types of forklifts, they must be trained on each vehicle class or type.
Your training plan must include hands-on and written instruction about the vehicles or workplace hazards specific to your place of business. If your business has multiple locations in which the operators will be using forklifts, they must be trained on the hazards that are unique to each of the locations.
Topics for this portion of the training must include:
- Surface conditions where the vehicle will be operated
- Composition of loads to be carried and load stability
- Load manipulation, stacking, and unstacking
- Pedestrian traffic in areas where the vehicle will be operated
- Narrow aisles and other restricted places where the vehicle will be operated
- Hazardous (classified) locations where the vehicle will be operated
- Ramps and other sloped surfaces that could affect the vehicle’s stability
- Closed environments and other areas where insufficient ventilation or poor vehicle maintenance could cause a buildup of carbon monoxide or diesel exhaust
- Other unique or potentially hazardous environmental conditions in the workplace that could affect safe operation.
Training must go beyond the basic operation of the industrial powered truck and include comprehensive information about the vehicle’s controls, capacity, maintenance, and precautions.
Topics for this portion must include:
- How to read and understand the forklift’s required name plate / data plate and find vital information such as fuel type and capacity
- Operating instructions, warnings, and precautions for the types of truck the operator will be authorized to operate
- Differences between the truck and an automobile
- Truck controls and instrumentation: where they are located, what they do, and how they work
- Engine or motor operation
- Steering and maneuvering
- Visibility (including restrictions due to loading)
- Fork and attachment adaptation, operation, and use limitations
- Vehicle stability
- Any vehicle inspection and maintenance that the operator will be required to perform
- Refueling and/or charging and recharging of batteries
- Operating limitations
- Any other operating instructions, warnings, or precautions listed in the operator’s manual for the types of vehicle that the employee is being trained to operate
Vehicle class-specific training
There are many types of forklifts used. If your business owns multiple types, operators do not need to be trained on each make and model. But, operators must receive truck-specific training on those types they will be expected to operate. Operators trained to use a sit-down type fork truck cannot operate a stand-up truck unless they have been trained to operate it.
The vehicle classes for powered industrial trucks are as follows:
Class I: Electric motor rider truck
These general use vehicles are most often found indoors, though varieties with pneumatic tires are sometimes used outdoors in dry conditions. These vehicles are versatile and protect air quality by running on battery instead of gasoline, natural gas, or diesel fuel.
Class II: Electric motor narrow aisle trucks
These narrow vehicles are designed to operate in small spaces efficiently. Narrow forklifts allow for their companies to pack in shelving or aisles close together to maximize storage area.
Class III: Electric motor hand trucks or hand rider trucks
These small vehicles battery-powered vehicles are driven by an operator in front of the truck. Steering and controls are contained in the tiller.
Class IV: Internal combustion engine trucks with solid, cushion tires
These forklifts are often seen couriering pallets from the loading dock to indoor storage. They feature a low clearance thanks to their smaller profile tires and can be used indoors or outdoors on smooth surfaces.
Class V: Internal combustion engine trucks with pneumatic tires
These trucks feature an internal combustion engine that is powered by compressed, diesel or LP gas. They are versatile and seen in all kinds of warehouses, from large to small.
Class VI: Electric and internal combustion engine tractors
These electric and combustion-powered tractors are known for their pulling power and are commonly seen on the airport tarmac hauling luggage.
Class VII: Rough terrain forklift trucks
Popular in construction, these large forklifts are designed for heavy outdoor use at a job site to lift and transport large loads of lumber or building materials.
Vehicle Inspection Training
According to OSHA guidelines, forklifts need to be inspected either daily or at the end of every shift if they’re used continuously. Before any driver begins work for the day, they must perform both a walkaround inspection and a seated inspection. In order for employees to properly perform this inspection, they must be formally trained on hazards and where to look for them.
The walkaround inspection involves checking major areas of the vehicle, such as the tires, hoses & belts, fluids, forks, engine, and data plate for safety and good condition.
The seated inspection is performed while the driver is in their seat. They must check that the controls, safety equipment, horn, brake, steering, seatbelt, and gauges are all in safe, operating condition.
Training the Trainers
OSHA’s regulation CFR 1910.178 (l) Operator Training spells out clearly what you need to do to correctly train employees to use forklifts.
While OSHA does not require special training or certification for forklift trainers or evaluators, they must be qualified for the task. Ensure that your operator training is conducted by someone who has the knowledge and experience to educate powered industrial truck operators and evaluate their competence.
In some cases, this may mean you will want to hire an outside training consultant. In many instances, however, this is not necessary. While outside trainers are certain to have the skill and expertise to train your employees, this does not mean you must hire an outside training consultant or company. Depending upon your circumstances it may be better if you do, but it is not required by OSHA. You simply must ensure that the person conducting the training “has the knowledge, training, and experience to train.”
Timing of forklift training
Operators with no certification must complete the full training program before operating a forklift. Until they are certified, they can only operate the vehicle under direct supervision while participating in the training.
Experienced operators who are new to your company and bring with them an outside certification are not necessarily required to go through the full training course. Instead, if you have reason to believe their training is sufficient, you can simply evaluate their skills and train them on only workplace-specific tasks, hazards, and vehicles.
Deficient operators must go through refresher training when the following occurs:
- The operator has been observed to operate the vehicle in an unsafe manner
- The operator has been involved in an accident or near-miss incident
- The operator has received an evaluation that reveals that the operator is not operating the truck safely
- The operator is assigned to drive a different type of truck
- A condition in the workplace changes in a manner that could affect the safe operation of the truck.
To ensure that the workplace incident was not because of faulty guidance, an evaluation of the entire training program must be performed when refresher training is required.
Current OSHA regulations require an evaluation of each forklift operator’s performance at least once every three years. If the operator continues to perform safely and within the guidelines set by your training, no further classwork is required at that time.
Employees that join your company through a contractor or temporary agency must still be certified to operate a forklift. Since temporary agencies are the employer of your temporary employee, not the host organization, it is the responsibility of the agency or contractor to provide training to the required standard or there must be an agreed-upon plan for providing training between your business and the agency.
If the agency is the one to provide training, your business must still train temporary employees on workplace-specific vehicles and hazards.
Under no circumstances is a minor allowed to operate a forklift. This is a violation of federal law. All operators must be over the age of 18 before beginning training.
Certification document requirements
OSHA also requires that you certify that each operator has been trained and evaluated. Many folks misunderstand this and think that training must be OSHA-certified. OSHA does not certify your training. This simply means you must document that training was provided and that the training met the requirements laid out in section (l) of the CFR 1910.178. To certify the training, you must document:
- The name of the operator
- The date of the training
- The date of the evaluation
- The identity of the person(s) performing the training or evaluating the training.
Employer training records
Records of training, performance, and certifications should be kept for at least the duration of employment.
Forklift training under OSHA guidance is one step towards creating a safer workplace for all employees. With some knowledge of OSHA’s requirements, thoughtful classroom planning, and seasoned workers with the skills to train, you will find this process is mostly straightforward. By the end of the training, you should be confident that your operators understand the training they have received and can safely operate the vehicle and have thorough documentation of the training provided.
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