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Applicants for forklift driving jobs are often asked to see their state driver’s license as proof that they know how to operate a lift truck. But legally, forklift operators are not required to have a state-issued driver’s license.
In fact, according to the agency charged with workplace safety oversight, the only “license” forklift operators need is some sort of certification that they know how to drive a forklift safely.
And documentation provided by the company itself is often good enough.
Value of Driver’s Licenses
Despite the fact that the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not require forklift operators to have state-issued driver’s licenses, many businesses require them anyway.
The theory is that if the driver already has been qualified by the issuing state to safely drive a car or pickup truck, then that driver probably already has at least some of the skills required to safely operate a forklift.
For example, people with driver’s licenses probably already know how to steer, use brake and gas pedals, and back up vehicles without running anybody over.
Drawbacks of Driver’s Licenses
Even though forklifts have some similarities to passenger cars and trucks, they are actually quite different. Forklifts not only have different controls than automobiles — such as lifting masts and forks — but also move entirely differently.
So businesses may not want to rely on their local DMV for qualifying forklift operators.
In fact, legally, OSHA won’t accept state-issued driver’s license as proof of competency for forklift operators. If an accident occurs involving a forklift operator that results in injury, death, or even serious damage, OSHA investigators will require the business owner to provide more.
Specialized Training and Certification Required
According to federal law, companies must show proof that their forklift operators have received adequate training on the safe operation of their vehicles. This can include formalized classroom instruction, video training, practical demonstrations, and more.
But providing training is not enough. Companies also need to prove that operators are safe drivers. This can include passing certification tests, which can be written exams, driving tests, or both.
What’s more, this certification proof must be kept on file and be available for OSHA investigators should an accident occur. If the business can’t prove that forklift drivers are trained, tested, and certified, the business’s owners could face stiff fines and other penalties, damage to its public reputation, and even criminal prosecution.
So while asking to see a driver’s license from forklift driver applicants is a good start, it shouldn’t be the only job requirement.