Forklift Operator Certification: What Exactly Is Required?

1109-11A Toyota Location-092Federal regulations require forklift operators to be certified by their employers prior to getting behind the wheel of their heavy equipment vehicles. But what exactly does that mean in practical terms?

The standard regulating forklift operators is US Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard 1910.178. But while the standard goes into great detail about what type of safety equipment needs to be included on forklifts and the safety protocols that should be followed, the OSHA regulations are less clear when it comes to operator training.

Who Can Conduct Forklift Operator Training?

The OSHA standard is  somewhat murky when it comes to who is allowed to train other employees on how to properly drive a forklift, stating only that trainers have “knowledge, training and experience” to teach forklift driving skills and evaluate the competence of their students.

No further definitions are given about any specific certifications trainers need in order to qualify for the job. For example, there is no OSHA requirement regarding renewing training certification, other than that if the trainer also is a forklift driver, he or she would need to be re-certified as an operator every three years.

How Frequently Should Operators Be Certified?

Some businesses require forklift operators to be certified annually. Others require re-certification every three years. But legally, three is no requirement for retraining or refresher training unless an operator has been involved in an accident, has been observed operating a forklift unsafely, or has failed to receive certification the first time.

Retraining for all operators also is required if there have been changes in the workplace that could impact safe operation, according to the OSHA standard.

Do Drivers Certified Somewhere Else Need Re-Certification?

If a forklift operator is hired who has received training certification somewhere else — such as by as former employer or a forklift driving school — the new employer is not required to provide duplicate training as long as they can verify that the previous training was completed.

But the new employer is required to evaluate the operator’s forklift driving abilities.

Do Certified Operators Need Licenses or Wallet Cards?

The OSHA standard does not require employers to provide certified operators with wallet cards or forklift driver’s licenses, although many companies do this to make it easier for supervisors to determine who has received training and who has not.

OSHA does require that companies maintain proof in employee files that forklift operator certification has been completed. In the event of an injury accident or other event investigated by OSHA inspectors, companies will be required to provide this documentation or face possible penalties, including citations and fines.

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