Operating forklifts and other powered industrial trucks can boost productivity and efficiency, but these heavy machines can also pose serious risks if not used properly. That’s why OSHA requires extensive training and certification for any worker who operates a forklift or similar vehicle. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the key elements of OSHA-compliant forklift training and provide essential tips for safe operating procedures.
Forklifts and their cousins — including reach trucks, order pickers, pallet jacks, and tow tractors — are indispensable tools. Their ability to lift, move, and stack heavy materials provides enormous leverage for warehouses, manufacturing facilities, construction sites, and other workplaces. However, these powerful machines can also be hazardous if operators are not thoroughly trained or fail to follow safety protocols.
According to OSHA statistics, nearly 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 are seriously injured in forklift-related accidents each year. Common causes include tip overs, falls, and collisions. That’s why OSHA’s Powered Industrial Truck standard (29 CFR 1910.178) mandates training and certification for all forklift operators. Proper instruction can prevent many accidents and save lives.
This article serves as a handy extract from our online training course, summarizing the essential information you need to know about forklift safety procedures in the workplace.
OSHA Forklift Training and Certification
Under OSHA regulations, you must complete comprehensive training and an evaluation before operating any type of powered industrial truck. Certification is not a one-time event. You must be reevaluated at least every three years, and receive refresher training whenever:
– You are observed operating a forklift unsafely
– You are involved in a near miss or accident
– You switch workplaces or change the types of trucks you operate
– New equipment, processes, or hazards are introduced
So what does forklift training entail? Key elements include:
– Classroom instruction on truck operations, workplace hazards, and OSHA safety standards
– Hands-on driving practice under supervision
– A performance evaluation of your skills and knowledge
In the classroom portion, you’ll learn about topics like:
– The different classes and types of trucks
– Proper inspection procedures
– Safe driving techniques, such as speed control and load handling
– Refueling/recharging and maintenance
– Hazard avoidance, like overhead clearances
The hands-on practice prepares you to maneuver the specific forklift models you’ll use on the job. The performance evaluation confirms you can operate the truck proficiently and know how to respond to emergencies. Once certified, you’ll likely receive additional task-specific training from your employer.
Forklift Classification System
OSHA categorizes powered industrial trucks into seven classes based on their power sources and design. Knowing the distinguishing features helps determine which trucks are appropriate for different environments and tasks. The classes are:
- Class 1 – Electric motor, counterbalanced forklift (solid tire or pneumatic tire options). Good for indoor use since there are no emissions.
- Class 2 – Electric motor narrow-aisle trucks like order pickers. Allow access to narrow spaces. Require fall protection.
- Class 3 – Electric motor hand trucks controlled by walking operator, like pallet jacks. No riding allowed.
- Class 4 – Internal combustion engine (gas, diesel, propane), counterbalanced truck with solid tires. For paved surfaces only.
- Class 5 – Internal combustion engine, counterbalanced truck with pneumatic tires. Good for rough terrains.
- Class 6 – Electric or internal combustion engine tractors with no counterbalancing feature. Used for towing.
- Class 7 – Rough terrain masted fork trucks, counterbalanced. Have extendable boom for lifting. Require added training.
In general, Class 1 and 2 electric trucks are preferred for indoor use, while Class 4 and 5 internal combustion trucks are better suited to outdoor operations.
Routine Forklift Inspection
Thorough inspections are crucial to forklift safety. Follow these steps to inspect your truck at the start and end of each shift:
– Tires – check pressure, tread wear, debris stuck in treads
– Mast – ensure it rises, lowers, and tilts smoothly
– Fork attachments – make sure they are secured properly
– Control levers and pedals – test smooth operation
– Warning lights, alarms, horns – confirm functioning
– Fluid leaks – look under truck and around wheels
– Hydraulic cylinders and lines – inspect for damage
– Overhead guard – look for broken parts
– Brakes – test stopping efficacy
– Steering – ensure not too loose or tight
– Seat belt – verify proper operation
– Gauges – check fuel, battery charge, water/coolant
– Hydraulic controls – test lift/lower and tilt functions
– Horn and safety features – confirm working
Report any deficiencies immediately to your supervisor. Never operate an unsafe forklift.
Safe Operating Procedures
Follow these universal safety rules when running a forklift:
– Perform pre-op inspection and report problems
– Follow traffic rules: drive slowly, yield right of way
– Sound horn and proceed cautiously at crossings
– Look both ways when entering aisles or doorways
– Maintain a safe following distance, about 3 truck lengths
– Drive in reverse if load obstructs your vision
– Keep hands and feet inside truck while driving
– Wear seatbelt and avoid sudden stops/starts
– Lower forks to floor when driving unloaded
– Chock wheels on slopes and inclines
– Never allow riders unless a safe passenger seat is provided
Additional Forklift Safety Tips:
– Square up to the load and approach slowly
– Slide forks under the entire load before lifting
– Check for secure engagement before moving
– Lift load only 4-6 inches off floor for transport
– Tilt mast back to stabilize load
– Keep forks lowered to 4-6 inches when moving
– Drive slower when carrying loads or on uneven surfaces
– Travel in reverse down slopes and drive forward up slopes
– Cross railroad tracks diagonally at slow speeds
– Position truck squarely and set brakes before unloading
– Tilt mast forward to slide load out gently
– Lower forks below floor level to avoid damage
– Set parking brake and lower forks flat to floor
– Chock wheels if on an incline
– Avoid blocking exits, hydrants, or traffic lanes
– Turn off engine and chock wheels first
– Remove battery vent caps or open lift cover during charging
– Recharge in designated safe area away from ignition sources
– Refuel in approved location only after engine cools
Avoiding Forklift Tip-Overs
Forklifts have a triangular stability “footprint” formed by the center of the steer axle and the two load wheels. This stability triangle must contain the combined center of gravity of the forklift and its load to prevent tipping. Avoid these common causes of tip-overs:
– Overloading beyond capacity
– Traveling with load elevated
– Turning too sharply at high speeds
– Driving across slopes rather than straight up/down
– Striking curbs, bumps, debris that shift the load suddenly
– Placing load too far forward on forks
If a tip-over occurs, stay inside the protective operator cage and hold on tight. Leaning your body in the opposite direction of the tip can sometimes counterbalance it. Never jump!
Forklifts provide invaluable strength and efficiency to industrial operations. But their power comes with considerable risk if mishandled. Always follow OSHA’s training guidelines and safe operating practices. Perform thorough inspections, choose the right equipment for the job, avoid overloads and tipping hazards, and give pedestrians plenty of clearance. Respect the power of these machines, and they will boost your productivity safely and effectively.
There’s no question that operating forklifts and powered industrial trucks effectively while meeting OSHA’s rigorous training standards is no small feat. The guidelines are comprehensive and designed to safeguard operators and their work environment. However, merely meeting the baseline requirements often isn’t enough. Statistics bear this out: even with OSHA-compliant training, accidents still happen—some with fatal outcomes. In a world where efficiency and safety are expected to go hand in hand, the question becomes: How can we do better? How can you ensure that your team doesn’t just meet OSHA requirements, but exceeds them, setting a new standard for workplace safety?
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Accidents don’t just happen; they’re the result of gaps in understanding and training. Forklifts and industrial trucks are marvels of modern engineering—powerful and efficient. But with power comes responsibility; these machines contribute to more than 100 fatal accidents and 35,000 serious injuries each year.
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