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This is Part I of our 2 Part Series on Forklift Operator Training. In Part I, we explore the inherent danger of operating a forklift and the importance of training and operating experience. In Part II, we will discuss refresher training and 3-year evaluations.

Driving a forklift is a dangerous job requiring a different skill set than that of driving a car or truck out on the city streets. While there are many similarities between the two, there are many more things that are different. There are hazards inherent with the operation of a forklift and with material handling which are not encountered on the road.

These hazards underscore the need for effective training.

Safety experts at EI are frequently asked to conduct forklift operator training. We arrive on site, conduct the classroom training, followed by the OSHA-required practical training and then administer a written exam which gauges the knowledge gained. Afterward, we issue a wallet card or certificate to each trainee who successfully completes the course. What many employers fail to realize is that the training process, at that point, is not complete. The instructor has not had a chance to see the trainee in action in the workplace performing tasks which will be a part of their everyday responsibilities. The wallet card or certificate, which is not required by OSHA, is no more than an acknowledgement of successful completion of the course. It does not give authorization to the newly trained operator to independently drive a forklift. That is the responsibility of the employer.

The employer shall ensure that each powered industrial truck operator is competent to operate a powered industrial truck safely, as demonstrated by the successful completion of the training and evaluation specified in 1910.178(l).

The standard goes on to say at 1910.178(l)(2)(ii) that trainees’ performance must be evaluated in the workplace. All that is known at the completion of the training course is that the trainee is capable (or not) of successfully navigating an obstacle course in the middle of a quiet warehouse or parking lot.

This requirement has been reinforced by OSHA in CPL 02-01-028 in which it states that the evaluation must take place in the workplace so that the evaluator can observe the operator under actual workplace conditions.

Learning to operate a forklift safely is much like getting a driver’s license. You don’t go to the DMV, pass a test and road test and get a driver’s license. Most states require a period of operating with a licensed driver at your side in order to gain real world experience.

Once an employee has completed the operator training course, he/she should continue to operate a forklift only under the watchful eye of an experienced operator. When this mentor is satisfied the trainee has acquired the skill and competency to be deemed a safe operator, he/she evaluates the performance of the trainee allowing the new operator to operate independently.

Stay tuned for Part II of this series where we will discuss refresher training and 3-year evaluations.