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How to Get a Forklift License

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According to CBS Marketwatch, the global market for forklifts is expected to grow, so the demand for forklift operators should also increase. To operate a forklift, you must complete a training program and be certified, or licensed. Although independent training programs are available for forklift operation, it is your employer's responsibility to license you for forklift operation when you are hired, and periodically thereafter.

OSHA: The Governing Body

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is responsible for overseeing laws and regulations pertaining to forklift operation. OSHA is the government agency responsible for the safety and health of workers while on the job. While OSHA does not have a universal forklift licensing program, the agency does provide guidelines to companies for certification of employees.

State Requirements

Other state agencies as well as individual companies can adopt their own rules regarding forklift licensing and use, as long as these additional rules uphold the minimum OSHA standards.

In Massachusetts, for example, the law specifically states that "No person shall operate hoisting machinery unless such person holds a license or temporary permit." The requirements for a Massachusetts license are that you submit an application, a copy of your driver's license and DOT medical card. You must also pass a written and operator's test, administered by the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety.

California, on the other hand, does not require a license, but imposes additional training requirements: a forklift operator must undergo hands-on training with the specific type of forklift to be used. However, note that many states do not impose any additional rules or licensing requirements.

Types of Forklifts

OSHA breaks each type of forklift down into specific classifications, depending on different factors. Some examples are electric motor sit-down rider forklifts, electric hand or rider trucks, and rough terrain forklifts. The training process for forklift operators must include training in the safe operation of the specific type of forklift that will be used by the employee, due to the different skills required for each class. In addition, forklift attachments used for specific purposes, such as barrel handling or lifting people, require specialized training for the operator to ensure their safe use.

Training Elements

The training program for a forklift operator must include the employer's policies for the site where the forklift will be used, and also cover load capacities for the forklift, locations of the different controls and the correct steering procedures. A pre-work safety inspection is also part of the training, as are general and specific safety rules, depending on the operating conditions.

The training is administered by an experienced forklift operator, often a company employee certified to perform the training. The sessions may also include video training provided by the forklift manufacturer. While not required, training may also include observation of the trainee in real-world forklift operation situations. The time to complete training varies depending on the company, but may take as little as two hours.


While formal testing is not required for a forklift license, OSHA clearly states that some form of evaluation is necessary. The type of evaluation is up to the individual employer, but many employers use a written knowledge test as an easy method of evaluation. Some employers may also require a demonstration of forklift aptitude by requiring the trainee to pass an operating test using the actual equipment.


OSHA regulations call for recertification in forklift safety and operation every three years. A new employee must be certified before he operates the equipment for his current company, regardless of his previous experience or certifications. The employer must keep records of certification, and make certain that each employee's forklift license is up to date.


About the Author

Craig Woodman began writing professionally in 2007. Woodman's articles have been published in "Professional Distributor" magazine and in various online publications. He has written extensively on automotive issues, business, personal finance and recreational vehicles. Woodman is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in finance through online education.

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