The Importance of Being Trained: Forklifts and powered industrial truck safety

By Tom O'Connor | Mar 15, 2023
A yellow forklift carrying a pallet of materials. STOCK.ADOBE.COM / GOLDEN SIKORKA
Forklifts or powered industrial trucks run on electric motors or internal combustion engines and are used to carry, push, pull, lift or stack materials. They are often used in the electrical and power utility sectors, and operating them without adequate training can be extremely dangerous.




Forklifts or powered industrial trucks run on electric motors or internal combustion engines and are used to carry, push, pull, lift or stack materials. They are often used in the electrical and power utility sectors, and operating them without adequate training can be extremely dangerous.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that between 75–100 deaths and 35,000–62,000 injuries involving forklifts occur every year. Forklift accidents tend to result in more serious injuries than traditional workplace incidents. The average number of workdays missed is 13, compared to eight days for all other job-related injuries. OSHA believes that most forklift injuries in the workplace are preventable.

OSHA’s breakdown

OSHA has standards addressing forklift safety in general industry and the maritime sector. The general industry standard, Powered Industrial Trucks (CFR 29 1910.178), regulates the following: “General design, maintenance and construction standards; Labeling; Approved truck; Storage and handling of liquid fuels; Storage and handling of liquid petroleum gas; and Carbon monoxide levels.”

It also breaks each type of forklift/powered industrial truck into seven different classes: Class I: electric motor rider trucks; Class II: electric motor narrow-aisle trucks; Class III: electric motor hand trucks or hand/rider trucks; Class IV: internal combustion engine trucks (solid/cushion tires); Class V: internal combustion engine (pneumatic tires); Class VI: electric and internal combustion engine tractors; and Class VII: rough terrain forklift trucks.

The most important component to forklift and powered industrial truck safety is ensuring that all operators and pertinent workers are properly and adequately trained. OSHA’s construction industry standard, Material Handling Equipment (CFR 1926.602), directs employers to adhere to training requirements in CFR 29 1910.178.

Training recommendations

According to “Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Workers Who Operate or Work Near Forklifts” from the National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH), “OSHA has promulgated the Final Rule for Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training [29 CFR 1910.178(l)], which became effective March 1, 1999. The standard requires operator training and licensing as well as periodic evaluations of operator performance. 

“The standard also addresses specific training requirements for truck operation, loading, seat belts, overhead protective structures, alarms, and maintenance of industrial trucks. Refresher training is required if the operator is observed operating the truck in an unsafe manner, is involved in an accident or near miss, or is assigned a different type of truck.”

NIOSH has a series of other additional training recommendations, including ensuring workers do not operate a forklift unless they have been trained and licensed to do so, and developing, implementing and enforcing a comprehensive written safety program. The program should include worker training, operator licensure and a timetable for reviewing and revising the program. A comprehensive training program is important for preventing injury and death.

Additionally, operator training should evaluate factors that affect the stability of a forklift, including the load’s weight and symmetry, the forklift’s speed, operating surface, tire pressure and driving behavior. It should also address inspections before and after use, maintenance and fueling.

Operators should always wear a seatbelt/restraint and be warned that in sit-down type forklifts they can be crushed by the overhead guard or another part of the truck after jumping from the overturning forklift. The operator of a sit-down forklift should stay with the truck if lateral or longitudinal tip-over occurs. They should hold on firmly and lean away from the point of impact. On stand-up type forklifts with rear-entry access to exit from the trucks, operators should be trained to step backward if a lateral tip-over occurs.

In the real world

Take this real-life example. A part-time laborer in a warehouse died after the forklift tipped over and he got pinned to the ground by the overhead guard. The worker had been hired six weeks before the incident. He had received orientation, a hard hat and safety glasses on his first day of work, but was not trained or assigned to operate the equipment. However, he had used it on occasion, under the supervision of management, to move materials while cleaning.

Following the incident, investigators indicated that proper training would have likely prevented this fatality. Additionally, they recommended employers ensure that forklifts are operated only by authorized employees who recognize the hazards of improper operation and have been specifically trained in safe operating procedures.

Header image: / Golden Sikorka

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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