A forklift, also known as a lift truck, is a type of powered industrial truck that has two horizontal forks or prongs. The chief purpose of forklifts is to help move materials and carry goods over short distances. However, operating this vehicle is not quite as simple as driving a car, which is why there are rules in place for those who want to use forklifts. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, having a driver’s license does not automatically qualify a person to operate forklifts. In fact, an operator does not even need to have a valid driver’s license to drive such a truck. However, it is the law for all operators to own a valid forklift certificate. Let’s go into specific details pertaining to forklift certifications.

What is a Forklift Certification?

A forklift certification is a type of license, which is a formal indication that the person holding it has undergone proper training and has been evaluated by their employer as fit to operate the machinery. The certificate includes details like the truck operator’s name, the identity of the trainer who performed the training and evaluation, and the date of the same.

Forklift certifications are valid for 3 years at a time, post which employers are required to conduct another evaluation for every operator. In case an operator is found to have been involved in a forklift accident or driving in a manner deemed unsafe, a refresher training course is mandated. This also applies in cases where workplace conditions have changed or the operator is required to drive a different type of forklift.

Why is It Important for Operators to Have a Forklift Certification?

Forklifts qualify as heavy machinery, and operating these are not without risk. Along with proper training and knowledge, drivers also need to be completely aware of the risks and best practices while using powered trucks at their jobs. In fact, most accident cases related to forklifts occur due to inadequate knowledge of operating the machinery. That is why the primary goal of OSHA regulations for forklift certifications is to minimize workplace injuries that may occur owing to unsafe truck operation.

In addition, certified workers can ensure maximum efficiency while using forklifts in their everyday schedule, thus lowering downtime.

Is There A Law Requiring Forklift Certifications for All Operators?

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations (1910.178 (i)(6)) require that every employee who needs to use a powered industrial truck in their field of work have this certificate, and employers are to certify the training.

Not adhering to these regulations draws penalties, the severity of which varies according to the case. Violations can attract monetary fines that range from $3,000 to $30,000 for every uncertified forklift operator. In extreme cases, imprisonment is a possibility, too.

Types of Forklifts

There are different types of forklifts that can be used for specific purposes. OSHA’s forklift classifications are labeled Classes I-VII, and each type has specific features and key benefits. Here is a look into the various types of forklifts in use today:

  • Class I: Electric Motor Rider Trucks: With minimal noise and no emissions due to being powered by electric batteries, these trucks are also counterbalanced by the battery. The forklifts have the ability to grab pellets after rolling into the tractor-trailer’s back, and then move the material to the assigned destination. These vehicles are ideal for indoor use, and are available in both sit-down and standing models.

  • Class II: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks: These are best suited for operation in tight spaces given their maneuvering ability and compact sizes. Class II forklifts are ideal for picking up and storing inventory. Stand-up units are more common in this category, but sit-down variants are also available.

  • Class III: Electric Motor Hand Trucks or Hand/Rider Trucks: Compact hand-controlled machines, these trucks lift loads just a few inches off the ground and are ideal for making short runs inside small warehouses to quickly unload material from tractor-trailers, and carry them to the required area. Forklifts in this category come in rider as well as walk-behind variants.

  • Class IV: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (Solid/Cushion Tires): These run on natural gas, LP, or diesel fuel, and are available in sit-down models. Featuring cushioned, solid tires, Class IV trucks are ideal for indoor use and low-clearance conditions. These trucks give warehouses the benefit of saving space as no battery-charging stations are required.

  • Class V: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (Pneumatic Tires): The key feature of these forklifts is that they can be fitted with solid pneumatic tires in case of tough work environments where the possibility of punctures is higher. They run on similar fuels like Class IV trucks, and are mainly designed for outdoor use.

  • Class VI: Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors: Primarily used for pulling loads from one place to another rather than lifting, these trucks are often visible at airports towing luggage carts. Class VI forklifts are available in IC-powered as well as electric models, and are considered to be among the most versatile trucks.

  • Class VII: Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks: As the name indicates, trucks in this category are designed to be used in challenging outdoor terrains like construction sites and lumberyards. These forklifts are available in different variants, and are mostly powered by diesel engines. They can even be equipped with masts to place loads at varying distances. Operating these trucks, however, needs additional training so that the forklift certification is specific to the class.

In addition, there is another type known as Aerial Lifts, which feature ‘man baskets’ that can be used to lift an operator up to higher ground that is difficult to reach. There are different types of trucks available in this category, too.

Getting Your Forklift Certification

There are OSHA-compliant forklift certifications and programs available, which train operators on safety guidelines, operating the various types of forklifts, and more. These certifications provide training specific to the type of forklift, thus giving operators detailed safety guidelines and training on operating every type of truck. Forklift certifications are often available in different forms such as the following:

  • Programs held at a training facility: Certain training programs offer classes at their training center, which are designed to provide complete operator driver training. Best suited for first-time forklift operators or those with inadequate previous experience, such programs offer hands-on training to operators.
  • Training at your site: Although these certifications do not vary as per the type of truck, forklift operators are still required to undergo training in the specific type of truck that they plan to operate. As such, site-specific training programs can come in handy as they will be best suited to the operator’s exact working conditions.

Companies can approach trainers to provide such a certification program at the company facility, thus helping trainers to observe the current working conditions, evaluate it, and then provide appropriate training.

  • Online training: Online programs that meet OSHA requirements are another option for getting a forklift certification. Like other forklift licenses, this certification also stays valid for 3 years, and is one of the quickest ways to complete classes and get a valid forklift certification.

From electric and internal combustion options to rider pallet trucks and cushion tire forklifts, there are a number of options to choose from. Warehouse operators need to choose the right forklift to fit their needs, and ensure that the forklift operator is properly certified.