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Common questions on forklift training and trainers

OSHA doesn’t list qualifications for forklift operators, requiring only that the employer certify the operator. The operator need not possess a driver’s license but must be at least 18 years old under child labor laws. Beyond that, the operator must go through training under a qualified trainer. Unfortunately, OSHA’s criteria for trainers are somewhat vague. Below are some common questions on forklift training.

Does OSHA require a certified trainer?

No, OSHA does not require that trainers take certain classes, hold a particular certification, or get re-certified at specified intervals. The Powered Industrial Truck Standard states that “all operator training and evaluation must be conducted by persons who have the knowledge, training, and experience to train operators and evaluate their competence.” The employer must ensure that trainers meet these qualifications.

An OSHA compliance directive says: “An example of a qualified trainer would be a person who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by knowledge, training and experience, has demonstrated the ability to train and evaluate powered industrial truck operators.” The trainer need not operate a forklift as part of his or her job but must have driving experience.

Employers may use more than one trainer, or could bring in trainer from outside the company. However, training must cover hazards specific to the workplace.

Can we use online or computer-based training?

Operators must receive a combination of formal and practical training. Formal training may include a lecture, discussion, interactive computer learning, video, written material, and so on. Employers may use online or computer-based training for this portion.

However, operators must also receive practical training, which means demonstrations performed by the trainer and practical exercises performed by the trainee. Also, operators must receive an actual performance evaluation where they operate the equipment and get evaluated.

What training is needed to use attachments?

Before using an attachment, operators must understand the limitations and potential hazards. Common attachments include fork extensions, barrel clamps, carpet poles, and personnel baskets.

The trainer must have experience using the attachments. An OSHA letter of interpretation dated July 23, 2003, notes that “if the employer uses certain truck attachments and the trainer has never operated a truck with those attachments, the trainer would not have the experience necessary to train and evaluate others” to safely use those attachments.

Note that modifications affecting the truck’s capacity must be approved in writing by the equipment manufacturer. Employers must obtain this approval before using the attachment. The unit’s data plate must identify the attachment, and the operating instructions must be updated so operators know how the attachment affects the unit’s load capacity. For example, fork extensions allow carrying a load further from the vehicle body, which reduces the weight capacity.

What if someone operated a forklift at a previous job?

Some operators may have experience from previous employment. However, they may still need training on the specific types of forklifts used, the particular hazards or conditions in the operating environment, and the use and limitations of attachments.

Employers may consider previous operating experience when delivering training, but the employer is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the operator is qualified and can operate safely in the work environment.

Is retraining required every three years?

No, but an evaluation of the operator’s performance is required every three years. If that evaluation identifies deficiencies, additional training may be required. These evaluations must be conducted by someone who is qualified to train operators and evaluate their competence.

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About the Author:

J. Keller & Associates, Inc. is the most respected name in safety and regulatory compliance. Since its beginning as a one-man consulting firm in 1953, the company has grown to over 1,500 associates serving more than 600,000 customers — including over 90% of the Fortune 1000® companies. The company’s subject-matter expertise spans nearly 1,500 topics, and its diverse solutions include training via online courses, streaming video or DVD; online management tools; managed services; consulting services; online and print compliance manuals and instructional publications; ELogs and mobile technology, forms and supplies. Safety professionals rely on J. J. Keller’s in-house expertise and wide selection of products and services to reduce risk and improve regulatory compliance, performance management, and operational efficiency. For more information, visit
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