Train Before Trucking

By Tom O'Connor | Jun 15, 2015




Powered industrial trucks cause approximately 100 fatalities and more than 35,000 serious injuries every year. It is estimated that as many as 25 percent of all accidents involving this type of equipment can be attributed to lack of training. As a result, proper hazard awareness and recognition when operating powered industrial trucks can help drastically reduce these types of incidents.

A few basic precautions apply to all powered industrial trucks, which are more commonly identified as forklifts or lift trucks. Defined as mobile, power-propelled trucks used to carry, push, pull, lift, stack or tier materials, they vary greatly depending on where they operate and the function they perform; options range from narrow aisle trucks to rough-terrain forklifts. They may be powered by electric or combustion engines. The first step of training is to become familiar with the equipment.

Forklifts and lift trucks typically have short wheel bases and weigh as much or more than many cars, which makes them potentially hazardous to use. Operators must be properly trained by a competent person prior to driving one. Once an individual is authorized and trained to use a powered industrial truck, the equipment still should be inspected prior to operation. The inspection should include testing the vehicle’s brakes and controls to ensure they work properly. In the event something is not functioning correctly, a supervisor must be alerted and the equipment taken out of use until it is repaired and deemed safe.

Only one person should be on a forklift or lift truck at any given time. This person must always wear a seat belt and adhere to manufacturer requirements, instructions and load limits. Failure to do so can have dire consequences.

Operators should position the forklift so that the forks are square with a load prior to picking it up. The forks should be placed underneath the load as far as possible. It is imperative that loads are never raised or lowered when traveling from one location to another and that they aren’t swung or carried over people. Objects being moved with a forklift need to be securely fastened in place. This can be done by using a proper securing pin to secure movable or replaceable lift bars. It is important that a threaded bolt or pin is never used for this purpose.

Whenever an industrial truck needs to cross an aisle or other area with obstructed views, the driver should move slowly and use the horn to alert others. The vehicle should always face the direction being traveled. Sudden stops or starts must be avoided.

Lower the lift or forks of an unattended forklift or lift truck, neutralize all controls, and chock the wheels. When not carrying a load, the forks should always be kept in the lowest possible position without making contact with uneven surfaces.

The following examples demonstrate what can happen when training is not provided and basic precautions are not observed:

• A 37-year-old forklift salesman was killed when attempting to deliver an industrial truck to a job site. The equipment was driven onto a loading dock, and the parking brake was engaged with the power off; however, the wheels were not chocked. The industrial truck fell off of the loading dock and fatally crushed the individual.

• A 44-year-old industrial truck operator died after falling approximately 30 feet to the ground from the upper tier of a handmade, wooden work platform. He was attached to a forklift at the time of the fall. Proper safety procedures were not in place at the time of the incident.

• A 51-year-old rigger was killed as a result of injuries sustained when he was pinned between a semi-truck trailer bed floor and a lift truck. The accident occurred when he attempted to move a piece of metal framework that was not secured or on a pallet.

All of these accidents could have been prevented with the mandatory training prescribed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The regulations require that employers provide both classroom and practical experience training in the use of a forklift before allowing an employee to use it on the job. As part of the training, the employee must physically demonstrate he or she can safely operate the lift. The employer must certify that the training and evaluation have been completed at least once every three years. Refresher training is required more frequently if the operator demonstrates a deficiency in the safe operation of the truck.

If you would like more information on this topic, a number of online resources are available. They include the OSHA eTool for Powered Industrial Truck Safety and the OSHA Safety and Health Training Resource for Powered Industrial Truck Safety. In addition, OSHA has several regulatory requirements that promote safe operation of this type of equipment that are important to be familiar with. All can be found at

About The Author

O’CONNOR is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm. Reach him at [email protected].


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