Hyster H155FT forklift in lumberyard with text that says "OSHA GUIDELINES FOR FORKLIFT SAFETY TRAINING".

OSHA Guidelines for Forklift Safety Training

Forklift training can be a confusing topic at first blush. Most distribution and manufacturing professionals generally understand that OSHA – the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration – governs forklift training, but then they notice that they receive training from their employers or third-party trainers who are distinctly not OSHA staff. How can this be, that OSHA requires forklift training but is not involved in the actual delivery of that training? And more so, if OSHA is not the one conducting or providing these trainings, how do employers ensure that they’re facilitating compliant training regiments? In this article, we’ll answer these questions by explaining OSHA’s delegation of standards, and then we’ll walk through exact OSHA forklift training guidelines from an employer’s compliance perspective.

It is true that OSHA is the governmental authority that regulates the operation of forklifts in commercial environments, focusing on safe practices and conditions. OSHA standards are synonymous with federal law and do set the expectation that general industry must comply with these standards or face legal, financial, and even criminal penalties. This regulatory process is broken down into three steps:

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) logo.
  1. Standards Establishment – OSHA writes, ratifies, and publishes standards that general industry must comply with.
  1. Responsibility Assignment – through OSHA’s standards, two specific sections assign and delegate the responsibility of training and active compliance to employers.  
  1. Certified Operation – for those falling under an employer-sponsored training program, or otherwise actively operating forklifts in an OSHA-governed application, employees must seek out this training and maintain their certification so as to prove their compliance with OSHA standards around knowledge and safe operation of a lift truck.

In these ways, we can see that compliance with OSHA’s forklift training requirements sets up a three-party relationship of responsibility. OSHA issues safe operation standards, employers must train their staff against these standards, and employees must conduct themselves in accordance with these standards and their training.

Now that we understand that providing training in fact falls squarely on the shoulders of the employer, we can revisit the earlier question about why OSHA isn’t involved in training directly. There would be no practical way for OSHA agents to conduct and manage training activities across the millions of forklift operators and employers in the country, so instead they have issued standards that outline specific requirements for training programs. From these standards, employers and third-party training companies develop their own training programs, assuring that their programs cover all of the required content and evaluation methods.

OSHA doesn’t mind who provides forklift training so long as the trainer is competent and qualified to conduct the training, and is following a program that if challenged, would address every required topic and training process outlined by OSHA. In order to do their forklift training in-house, many employers will have an employee certified to conduct the training through a train-the-trainer forklift certification program.  For more reading on these training requirements, see OSHA’s section 1910.178.I.2, or read on for a summary.    

Summary of OSHA Forklift Training Guidelines

Now, on to reviewing actual OSHA forklift training guidelines. OSHA breaks their training guidelines down into two buckets: Truck-Related topics, and Workplace-Related topics.

As employers and safety consultants develop their OSHA-compliant training programs, they are required to include formal training (in a sit-down, classroom type setting appropriate for formal learning), practical training (such as hands-on forklift operation coaching), and final evaluation. As we cover each of the below categories of training topics, keep in mind that each must be covered in all three formats – formal training, practical training, and evaluation.

Truck-Related Forklift Training Topics

Safety standards that speak to the actual forklift in use, its suitability to perform a given function, its health, and its physical condition are referred to as truck-related topics. Specific items of interest in this category are:

  • Operating instructions, warnings, and precautions for the types of truck the operator will be authorized to operate.
  • Differences between the truck and the automobile.
  • Truck controls and instrumentation: where they are located, what they do, and how they work.
  • Engine or motor operation.
  • Steering and maneuvering.
  • Visibility (including restrictions due to loading).
  • Fork and attachment adaptation, operation, and use limitations.
  • Vehicle capacity.
  • Vehicle stability.
  • Any vehicle inspection and maintenance that the operator will be required to perform.
  • Refueling and/or charging and recharging of batteries.
  • Operating limitations.
  • How to perform a pre-shift truck inspection.

Workplace-Related Forklift Training Topics

Next, OSHA requires trainers to cover topics associated with the workplace environment in which employees will operate their lift trucks. Specific topics include:  

  • Surface conditions where the vehicle will be operated.
  • Composition of loads to be carried and load stability.
  • Load manipulation, stacking, and unstacking.
  • Pedestrian traffic in areas where the vehicle will be operated.
  • Narrow aisles and other restricted places where the vehicle will be operated.
  • Hazardous (classified) locations where the vehicle will be operated.
  • Ramps and other sloped surfaces that could affect the vehicle’s stability.
  • Closed environments and other areas where insufficient ventilation or poor vehicle maintenance could cause a buildup of carbon monoxide or diesel exhaust.
  • Other unique or potentially hazardous environmental conditions in the workplace that could affect safe operation.

Across the above training topics, operators are meant to gain a thorough understanding of their lift’s capabilities and weaknesses, safe operating practices, caution and stop-work warning signs, and above all, their individual responsibilities in contributing to a safe working environment for themselves and their colleagues.

Upon completion of this training regiment, trainers issue certifications that attest to a trainee’s competence in operating a forklift in compliance with OSHA requirements. Typically, trainees must complete several hours of formal training, an array of hands-on operations and maneuvers behind a lift similar to the type they’ll operate, and then pass a combination written and practical evaluation. Issuing this certification concludes OSHA’s training battery, and this certification locks in an employer’s determination that the employee satisfactorily meets requirements, as well as the employee’s proof of competence against those requirements.

It’s with this issued certification that the three-party responsibility relationship described above is fully instantiated. If there is ever a question of compliance around an individual employee’s certification, training records and evaluation results must be furnished and audited to confirm that they meet OSHA’s standards. At minimum, employees must be retrained and recertified every three years.

When Refresher Training is Required

Because forklift operations vary so widely between industries, businesses, and lift types, the training and certification process is rather specialized to the conditions a trainee is expected to operate under. Whenever deficiencies are identified either in the initial training or in an employee’s capabilities, OSHA’s standards call for and lay out a process for Refresher Training.

This refresher training is intended to be enacted immediately, not waiting for the normal three-year recertification cycle to come around. Refresher training serves to correct behavior, convey newly applicable information, and confirm the effectiveness of prior training so as to ensure that the employee possesses the knowledge and skills to operate fork trucks in a safe manner. Refresher training may be provided on only pertinent topics, or may repeat all topics entirely, at the employer’s discretion.

Conditions that trigger refresher training include:

  • The operator has been observed to operate the vehicle in an unsafe manner.
  • The operator has been involved in an accident or near-miss incident.
  • The operator has received an evaluation that reveals that the operator is not operating the truck safely.
  • The operator is assigned to drive a different type of truck.
  • A condition in the workplace changes in a manner that could affect safe operation of the truck.

We hope that this discussion has been helpful for your commercial material handling needs. Fairchild Equipment is the Upper Midwest’s premier Material Handling Equipment and Service resource, with headquarters in  Green Bay, Wisconsin, and numerous locations serving needs 24/7 across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Northern Illinois, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For more information or to discuss which Warehouse Optimization solution might be best for you, please send us a message or call us at (844) 432-4724.


2140 Hutson Rd.
Green Bay, Wisconsin 54303
(920) 494-8726