Forklift Training Basics

By Travis Rhoden, Senior EHS Editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

If you use forklifts at your facility, you know you have to train your operators. OSHA's standards for Powered Industrial Trucks at 29 CFR 1910.178 require all forklift operators to receive a combination of formal instruction and hands-on experience. Formal training can be made up of classroom lectures, discussions, interactive computer learning, videos, and written materials. Hands-on training may include demonstrations by the trainer and practical exercises performed by the employee.

Employers must evaluate all employees on their skills before allowing them to operate a forklift at the facility. Employees must also be evaluated after refresher training and at least once every three years, or whenever an operator is observed to operate in an unsafe manner, or who is involved in an accident or a near miss. If the employee doesn't pass the evaluation, then you must provide refresher training. Of course, if the operator is assigned to a different type of truck, that will require additional training on the specifics of that vehicle.

How do we know if an employee is competent to operate a forklift?

OSHA says your evaluation can include the following:

  • Discussions with employees;
  • Observations of employees operating the forklift;
  • Written documentation of previous training; and
  • Performance testing.

When new employees or temporary workers claim to have prior work experience operating forklifts, you must still evaluate their skills before allowing them to work on one of your forklifts. However, OSHA does allow you to evaluate the applicability and adequacy of any training the new employee has already had. You can consider the type of equipment the employee worked on, the amount of experience the employee has had on the equipment, how recent the experience was, and the type of jobs the employee worked. Site-specific training is always necessary.

Who can conduct forklift training?

OSHA says that anyone who is training and evaluating forklift operators must have the "knowledge, training, and experience to train powered industrial truck operators and evaluate their competence." The Agency does not say that training must be done by the employer, a supervisor, or any other particular person. For instance, another employee can conduct the training, as long as that employee meets the requirements as a competent person. It’s up to the employer to ensure that training is conducted by a qualified person.

How We Can Help

J. J. Keller® Training makes it easy to train your employees on their schedules. Backed by 30+ years of training development experience, our flexible online courses and video training programs — accessible 24/7 on any device — cover a wide range of essential EHS topics, including forklift safety and OSHA compliance for pedestrians and operators. Visit to browse our full course library today!

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