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What Are the Qualifications of a Forklift Operator?

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The risk of serious injury is real when operators are not trained to safely handle forklifts. OSHA standards help minimize those risks. According to OSHA rules, employers must train forklift operators and evaluate their abilities prior to job assignment. After evaluation, employers certify that operators are sufficiently qualified for duty. Qualifications include equipment knowledge, safe operation abilities, load and material handling, inspection procedures and workplace-specific knowledge. States follow OSHA rules for forklift safety, but may add additional qualification requirements.

Equipment Knowledge

Qualified forklift drivers are knowledgeable about the types of forklifts they operate. They understand critical forklift truck measurements and how these measurements affect safe operations. Critical measurements include forklift overall lowered height, overall raised height, free fork height and maximum fork height. Knowing these measurements helps drivers avoid striking ceiling fixtures, doorways and storage racks. Basic equipment information is included on the forklift nameplate. Qualified forklift drivers are able to read and understand the importance of this information. For instance, these drivers know not to exceed a listed rated load capacity.

Safety Operation Know-how

Forklift drivers must know how to operate the vehicle safely. Safe operations include driving at an appropriate speed, sounding the horn at intersections, driving safely when transporting a load and not leaving a forklift unattended with a suspended load and with the engine running. Qualified drivers also know how to manage forklift movements when a load obscures vision by using a spotter or safely driving in reverse.

Material Handling and Load Management

Forklifts are primarily used to move material loads from one place to another. Drivers must be able to maneuver these loads without incident. Qualified drivers know how to lift and move loads of various types, sizes and weights while keeping the forklift, stable, balanced and secure. Different attachments are sometimes needed to handle a load. Qualified forklift drivers know how to use the appropriate attachments, such as a clamp attachment to move and stage materials.

Inspection Knowledge

Forklift driver qualifications also include knowing how to inspect and check forklifts for defects such as broken horns, low tire pressure, worn tire treads or non-working brakes. These conditions are unsafe and qualified drivers know that defective trucks are not used. Forklifts must be checked at least daily. For 24-hour operations, checks are done at the beginning of each shift. Drivers must know how to maintain equipment in a neat and orderly manner. Drivers know how to maintain the equipment in a neat and orderly manner.

Awareness of Workplace Conditions

Surfaces may vary from smooth and paved to uneven and sloped. This creates potential hazards for load stability and steering control. Qualified forklift drivers recognize and adjust to these conditions. For example, they are able to drive up and down sloped area or ramps while maintaining load control and vehicle stability. Because forklift drivers may operate in areas with pedestrian traffic, drivers must also comply with workplace rules for pedestrian safety.


About the Author

Deb Dupree has been an active writer throughout her career in the corporate world and in public service since 1982. She has written numerous corporate and educational documents including project reports, procedures and employee training programs. She has a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from the University of Tennessee.

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