Forklift operator training is essential because forklifts are potentially dangerous pieces of heavy equipment. A forklift is basically a larger and more versatile version of a pallet jack. Also known as lift trucks or powered industrial trucks, forklifts are built to carry heavy loads over significant distances at various job sites and across various types of terrain.
Without proper training, forklifts can cause serious accidents resulting in injury or death. Forklift accidents caused 8,140 nonfatal injuries and 79 deaths in 2019 alone. In light of the number of forklift accidents and fatalities, training and certification are important in staying safe when operating a forklift.
Is a Forklift Certification Required?
Yes, forklift certification is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), specifically under OSHA regulations covering powered industrial trucks: OSHA 29 CFR 1910.
In order to be OSHA-compliant for forklift operation, a person must meet a minimum age requirement and go through a certification process. As detailed on the OSHA website –
“It is a violation of Federal law for anyone UNDER 18 years of age to operate a forklift or for anyone OVER 18 years of age who is not properly trained and certified to do so.”
What Does OSHA Forklift Certification Involve?
Exact OSHA standards can differ depending on the state. OSHA state requirements in some states are reflected in state plans that cover private job sites as well as local and state government workplaces. OSHA-approved plans in other states cover only state and government workers, while still other states operate under federal OSHA regulations.
As a result, different states have varying OSHA safety and health programs, some with more stringent rules, and some with less. In addition, employer requirements and worker rights may vary from state to state.
With these things in mind, here are some common questions about OSHA forklift certification and the training requirements you must meet in order to earn a forklift certification card.
Do Employers Need To Provide Forklift Training?
It’s typically up to your employer to provide training either themselves or through a third-party source. However, some employers may require certification before you can apply for a job.
Who Needs Forklift Training?
Anyone who will use a forklift on the job needs training. This includes workers who use them on a regular basis as part of their jobs and people who rent them for specific tasks.
All workers who will use forklifts must know how to use them safely. As a general rule, warehouse workers and other manual laborers need forklift training. This includes all employees, contractors, and temporary workers who need to use forklifts on the job.
How Do I Get Forklift Certified?
To comply with OSHA requirements, forklift training must include formal instruction, practical training, and professional evaluation.
However, OSHA doesn’t certify workers who have finished these programs. Along the same lines, OSHA doesn’t approve third-party companies to provide training. Many private businesses have great forklift training programs and classes.
But OSHA does provide online forklift training and other online courses for those who operate heavy machinery. The price for each of these online training modules is $79, and may also be used by those seeking retraining or refresher training. Because various equipment differs slightly in terms of actual operation, however, hands-on forklift certification training is also required at the job site.
Step 1: Determine What Type of Forklift You Need To Be Certified for and Sign Up for a Course
Different kinds of forklifts require different and specific training. Do you want to operate a sit-down rider truck or a stand-up truck? An order picker or a counterbalance forklift? A side loader or a pallet jack?
Discuss your goals with your employer, who can help you identify which types of equipment you’re most likely to use on a specific job site. You may need additional training if you’re familiar with one and not another.
Determine where you’ll be using the forklift, too. Will you be outdoors, where you may encounter uneven terrain, or in a warehouse setting?
A certification course may be taken through your employer or a third party.
Step 2: Undergo Formal Instruction Either in Person or Online
A forklift training course can include classroom or video lessons. You may receive written training materials, or you might take software-based lessons or online classes.
Step 3: Pass the Written Test
In order to earn a forklift operator certification, you’ll have to pass a written test showing you know how a forklift works and how to operate one safely. This will include two components: one concerning the forklift itself, and the other concerning safety precautions you’ll need to take while driving it.
Regarding the lift, it’s important to know the three main forklift parts (body, overhead guard, and hydraulic lift), as well as how to operate the steering wheel; use the clutch, brake, and gas pedals; and manipulate the lift.
You’ll need to know not to overload the forks, causing the lift to tip forward off its back wheels; understand how to deal with different loads; and know to adjust your speed downward for longer and wider loads. If the lift tips, you’ll need to know how to react (don’t try to jump out of the vehicle).
Safety procedures that you’ll need to learn include how to properly get on and off the forklift (don’t grab the steering wheel for leverage); when to use the horn (often); and the necessity of using safety belts.
Step 4: Practice Skills in a Hands-On Environment
Once you’ve passed the written test, you’ll need to practice your skills in a hands-on environment. Undergo in-person training from a certified forklift operator who can demonstrate how to use a forklift properly and the precautions you can take to avoid injuries. You will want to know how to:
- Get on and off a forklift.
- Reduce speed when turning corners.
- Use your horn to alert others when you approach.
- Keep your forklift and load low enough to give you a clear view.
- Slow down when navigating down rough terrain.
- Avoid unbalanced loads.
- Keep your load within its specified weight capacity.
- Avoid hazardous areas.
- Maintain 360-degree visibility.
- Park the forklift safely.
Step 5: Receive a Final Evaluation
Once you’ve completed your testing, you’ll receive a final evaluation based on your written test and driving skills.
If you pass, you’ll receive a forklift license. You’ll be able to present this to potential employers when applying for jobs.
It’s important to remember that you’ll need to complete both the written exam — based on classroom lectures or online training — and the hands-on training.
How Long Does It Take To Complete a Forklift Certification?
This will vary depending on the type of forklift you plan to operate and your prior experience. Typically it takes 1-2 days to complete the course, the hands-on training, and the evaluation, but it may take a few more days for complex forklifts.
While online courses may advertise that you can complete a course in a matter of hours, remember that practical training and evaluation components are also required.
What Should I Learn From My Training?
Once you’ve completed your training, you should understand basic operating instructions and know how driving a forklift differs from driving a car. You should also know:
- Where the forklift controls are, what they do, and how to use them.
- How to use a lift, as well as any attachments, in a range of conditions on a variety of terrains.
- How to load and unload a range of cargo types safely.
- The forklift’s capacity.
- How to be aware of visibility problems or other limits.
- Basic inspection procedures and maintenance.
- How to recharge or refuel the forklift.
Most forklift certification programs focus on operating the equipment. They should also help operators become familiar with the workplace itself, which will have a big impact on safety concerns: OSHA recommends that operators know the surface conditions where they will be using the forklift, including ramps and grades.
Operators should also learn about the physical makeup of the cargo they’re moving. They should know if this has any impact on keeping loads stable. Operators should also know how to load, unload, and move cargo in their workplace.
Forklift training programs should teach you how to be aware of hazards and where the forklift can go safely, including how and whether to navigate aisles that are narrow or restricted. You should understand how to deal with pedestrian and vehicle traffic as well as right-of-way rules in the workplace.
You should also know what OSHA’s forklift training standards don’t require. Your company can have basic medical standards that ensure that operators don’t pose a threat to other workers or the workplace. Outside of these standards, however, your company doesn’t have to test for medical status. There’s also no requirement to test forklift operators’ vision or hearing.
How Much Does Forklift Certification Cost?
Costs range from $50 to $200 and will vary depending on the type of training (in-person or online). Local community colleges may provide free or discounted certification.
How Long Do Forklift Certifications Last?
Forklift certifications last three years. Refresher courses are required every three years or when someone is in an accident or near-miss, or is caught operating a forklift unsafely.
Forklifts are potentially dangerous pieces of heavy equipment. To operate them safely, it’s important to know how they work, their limitations, and what to do in various situations you may encounter when driving them.
This is the kind of knowledge you must demonstrate in order to be certified to operate a forklift, and that you must bear in mind to keep yourself and others safe as you do so.