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Forklift Training Questions & Answers

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Driving a forklift is not like driving an automobile. These vehicles have unique characteristics and inherent hazards that contribute to accidents when untrained persons are at the helm. Incidents and injuries linked to forklift use are often preventable with proper training and education. That’s why Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules mandate forklift operator training. Interpretation of OSHA training requirements sometimes brings more questions than answers. To clarify some of the misnomers, frequently asked questions are answered below.

What does OSHA require?

A forklift falls under OSHA’s powered industrial truck regulations. These rules specify that employers must make sure all powered industrial truck operators are competent in operations before using them on the job. The standard requires successful completion of forklift training, which includes hands-on practice and performance evaluation. It is important to note that some states have workplace safety standards that are more stringent than federal OSHA standards. In this case, additional requirements may apply.

Who needs training and when?

Training applies to all employees who will operate a forklift on the job, except for those under 18 years old. It is a violation of federal law to allow employees under 18 to operate a forklift. Employers must train and certify age-appropriate employees before assigning forklift operation duties.

What must the training cover?

Training content includes forklift operations and specific work site conditions. Typical operations topic include the differences between an automobile and a forklift, operating instructions, truck stability, load capacity and inspections. Typical topics related to work sites include site-specific forklifts used on the job, site surface conditions, specific material handling criteria and pedestrian safety. Workplace specifics must also address any hazardous areas in which a forklift operates, such as in and around flammable chemical storage areas.

Is there an OSHA-approved list of forklift trainers?

No. It is up to an employer or individual to vet trainers. Training options include community colleges or trade schools, or private companies. Employers can also develop their own training.

What’s the deal with certification?

Some training providers advertise certification as part of their packages. However, OSHA regulations state that employers must certify operator training and evaluation. In other words, the employer certifies that each forklift operator is trained, evaluated and competent in forklift operator duties. Third-party trainers may certify operators on behalf of an employer, but the employer is ultimately the responsible party.

What’s included in certification documentation?

Certification documentation includes the name of the forklift operator, the date of training and evaluation, the identity of the persons conducting training and evaluations. Employers keep this documentation on file even if third parties provide training and evaluations on their behalf.

Is refresher training required?

Refresher training is required under certain conditions. It is needed if an operator engages in unsafe forklift operations; if the operator is involved in an accident or a near-miss incident; if the operator is assigned to drive a new type of forklift; or if changes in workplace conditions affect operational safety.

What about the frequency of evaluations?

A forklift operator’s performance is evaluated once every three years.

Does an employment change make retraining necessary?

Forklift operators initially trained by one employer and who move to a new employer may be subject to retraining based on a performance evaluation by the new employer. The new employer can assess adequacy of the previous training and decide if operator skills are on par with job requirements and site conditions. If the employer decides retraining is not necessary, careful documentation of the decision is recommended.


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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