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Driving a car is very similar to operating a forklift. Both require knowledge about how the vehicle works, basic information about traffic safety, and a constant awareness about other vehicles and people in the area.
But when it comes to who is responsible for making sure the operator is qualified to drive the vehicle, the two paths go in completely different directions.
The federal government has determined that individual states have the right to issue driver’s licenses. That’s why there’s no federal licensing for automobile drivers and why you need to go to the local Department of Motor Vehicles or your local Secretary of State’s Office to get a driver’s license rather than the US Department of Transportation.
But when it comes to forklifts, the law says that is shouldn’t be up to the federal government or even the state government to certify driver qualification. It should be up to individual businesses.
The government agency that regulates the use of forklifts in the workplace is the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The specific standard is 29 CFR 1910.178(!)(1).
Essentially, what this standard does is hand off responsibility for training and certifying forklift operators to the businesses that hire them, rather than putting it on the states or the federal government itself.
That means that when you hire forklift operators, it’s up to you to make sure they know how to safely operate a forklift. Conversely, you also are responsible for producing paperwork that you provided this training in the event that they are involved in an accident that resulted in a lot of damage to property, injury or death.
How to Train Forklift Operators
When it comes to what type of specific training the law requires, things get a little less black-and-white.
OSHA doesn’t recommend any specific training program per se. Instead, the regulatory agency only says that employers are required to implement a training program that is based on the “general principles of safe truck operation” and that drivers “must know how to do the job properly and do it safely as demonstrated by workplace evaluation.”
Many businesses that are adverse to setting up their own forklift training and licensing side operation will farm out the training to an independent company that specializes in this type of forklift operator training and certification.
Regardless of who provides the training, if you have forklift operators working for your business it’s your responsibility to prove that they have received the necessary training and that you can produce the paperwork to back up this claim.