Forklifts are a type of material handling vehicle used on construction sites and in warehouses to lift and transport materials, especially palletized loads.
There are many different types and classes of forklifts. In this post, we go over the different forklift classifications per OSHA standards, as well as the occupational safety concerns that go into forklift training and operation. We’ll also talk about how to choose a forklift for your jobsite, and which types require forklift certifications to operate.
Table of contents
- How Many Forklift Classifications Are There?
- Forklift Classification Chart
- Forklift Class Types
- Class I: Electric Motor Rider Trucks
- Class II: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks
- Class III: Electric Motor Hand Trucks
- Class IV: Internal Combustion Trucks (Cushion Tires)
- Class V: Internal Combustion Trucks (Pneumatic Tires)
- Class VI: Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors
- Class VII: Rough-Terrain Forklift Trucks
- How to Choose a Forklift
- Do You Need a License to Operate a Forklift?
- Rent a Forklift Today
How Many Forklift Classifications Are There?
Forklifts are organized into seven different forklift classes, according to OSHA. OSHA defines forklifts, or lift trucks, as powered industrial trucks, which are used to move materials. All vehicles that fall into that category are governed by standard 1910.178.
OSHA acknowledges that different types of forklifts present different operating hazards due to variations in the vehicles and how and where they’re used. For example, counterbalanced sit-down riders may be more prone to load-related falling accidents than motorized hand trucks because the riders have a relatively high lift capacity.
Forklift Classification Chart
This chart breaks down each forklift class and offers examples from each class as well as common applications for forklift use.
|Class I: Electric Motor Rider Trucks||
||They have zero emissions and are great for handling a variety of material handling tasks.|
|Class II: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks||
||These small lift trucks are great for operating through tight and narrow spaces.|
|Class III: Electric Motor Hand Trucks||
||Specialized for transporting palletized loads over short distances, they are often hand-controlled machines.|
|Class IV: Internal Combustion Trucks (Cushion Tires)||
||As small to heavy-sized lift trucks used for transporting heavy loads on flat indoor surfaces, they typically contain an LPG or diesel engine with cushion tires.|
|Class V: Internal Combustion Trucks (Pneumatic Tires)||
||Specialized in transporting heavy loads on outdoor and indoor surfaces, they typically contain pneumatic tires.|
|Class VI: Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors||
||Lift trucks used for tugging and transporting materials in airports or assembly lines, these machines typically pull materials instead of lifting them.|
|Class VII: Rough-Terrain Forklift Trucks||
||With tractor-style tires and a suspension, these are often used for transporting materials in rough and uneven terrain.|
Forklift Class Types
OSHA breaks down the seven different forklift classes as follows.
Class I: Electric Motor Rider Trucks
Class I forklifts are designed for a variety of material handling tasks. They’re electric lifts, meaning they’re quieter and produce fewer emissions than gas-powered lifts, making them safer for indoor tasks in warehouses, though they can be used outdoors too.
Class I forklifts are also usually counterbalanced forklifts that have the operator stand or sit, and are often three-wheeled or four-wheeled trucks. Class I forklifts are electric lifts so they are quieter and create fewer emissions than gas-powered lifts.
Class I highlights include:
- Types of forklifts: Counterbalance, electric stand-up or sit-down (three-wheel and four-wheel models)
- Engine type: Electric
- Best for: Air quality concerns and indoor use
Class II: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks
Class II forklifts are narrow aisle trucks, designed to operate in tight and narrow spaces. These forklifts are commonly side loaders or order pickers and are typically used indoors.
Due to their extreme lift heights, these forklifts have lower lift capacities than other classes. Class II forklifts are often used to move, pick up, and deliver materials. Unlike other forklifts, they don’t have cabs.
Class II highlights include:
- Types of forklifts: Order pickers, turret trucks, high-lift straddles, or side loaders, stand-up riders, and reach trucks
- Engine type: Electric
- Best for: Navigating through small spaces
Class III: Electric Motor Hand Trucks
Class III forklifts are hand-controlled forklifts, like electric pallet jacks or walkie stackers, and are mainly used indoors. They’re ideal for transporting palletized loads over short distances, but they’re not made to lift loads as high off the ground as other classes.
Class III highlights include:
- Types of forklifts: Pallet jacks or walkie stackers
- Engine type: Electric
- Best for: Moving and transporting pallets
Class IV: Internal Combustion Trucks (Cushion Tires)
Class IV forklifts are mainly composed of internal combustion engine trucks, or IC forklifts, that are powered by gas engines. They’re commonly used for transporting heavy loads over smooth floors or other flat indoor surfaces like loading docks or warehouses.
Because they’re designed for use on smooth surfaces, these heavy-duty vehicles use cushion tires. These tires are smooth, so while they don’t have much traction, they make it much easier for the vehicles to move through tight spaces than pneumatic tires would.
Class IV highlights include:
- Types of forklifts: Counterbalanced internal combustion forklifts
- Engine type: Diesel, gas, or natural gas
- Best for: Transporting heavy loads on smooth and flat surfaces
Class V: Internal Combustion Trucks (Pneumatic Tires)
Similar to Class IV forklifts, Class V forklifts are composed of pneumatic internal combustion forklifts. Unlike Class IV, they use pneumatic tires instead of cushion tires. These tires are designed with tracks that make them able to grip rough surfaces, giving Class V forklifts the traction they need to work in both outdoor and indoor applications.
Class V highlights include:
- Types of forklifts: Counterbalanced pneumatic forklifts
- Engine type: Diesel, gas, or natural gas
- Best for: Rough or jagged terrain
Class VI: Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors
Unlike other classes, Class VI forklifts, or tow tractors, are designed for tugging and transporting packaged materials in a similar way to a tractor. Depending on the model of the machine, they can be sit-down or stand-up.
Class VI highlights include:
- Types of forklifts: Tow tractors
- Engine type: Electric, diesel, gas, or natural gas
- Best for: Towing packaged materials
Class VII: Rough-Terrain Forklift Trucks
Class VII forklifts are designed for use on rough terrain or uneven surfaces, primarily in outdoor applications like lumber or scrap yards. The wheels are typically mid- to large-size tractor wheels and can be all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
Class VII highlights include:
- Types of forklifts: Rough terrain forklifts
- Engine type: Gas or diesel
- Best for: Hilly, uneven, or wet terrains
How to Choose a Forklift
The type and class of forklift you need depends on the scope of your project. When looking for a forklift, consider the following factors:
- Determine the load capacity. You want to make sure the forklift you choose can handle the load you need to move. Overloading a forklift can be dangerous.
- Know if you’re using it indoors or outdoors. Different forklifts are built for different applications, so be sure that the one you choose can operate stably on your job site.
- Survey the terrain. Make sure the forklift you use is able to handle rough or smooth terrain, depending on what you’re dealing with.
- Select the correct tires. If you’re working on rough terrain, you might want a forklift with pneumatic tires. For work on a smooth, flat surface indoors, a forklift with cushion tires might be more appropriate.
- Consider forklift attachments: Depending on the scope and complexity of your job, you may need a versatile machine that can handle a variety of tasks with easily changeable attachments, or a machine specialized for one task.
- Know the fuel type: For indoors applications, an electric forklift might be preferable because there aren’t as many emissions. If you require more power and are working outdoors, you might want a diesel-powered machine.
Do You Need a License to Operate a Forklift?
OSHA requires all forklift operators to have forklift certifications. Operators must take a training course and be evaluated with hands-on training. No person under the age of 18 is allowed to operate a forklift.
Rent a Forklift Today
If you’re looking to rent a forklift, you’ve come to the right place. BigRentz has a variety of forklifts, ranging from warehouse trucks to industrial-sized machines, so you can find the right equipment for your project.