Safety and Compliance Requirements for Forklifts

Powered industrial trucks, commonly called forklifts or lift trucks, are used in many industries, primarily to move materials. Forklifts can also be used to raise, lower, or remove objects on pallets or in boxes, crates, or other containers. Powered industrial trucks can either be ridden by the operator or controlled by a walking operator. Over-the-road haulage trucks and earth-moving equipment that has been modified to accept forks are not considered powered industrial trucks. OSHA has extensive safety and compliance regulations for forklift design and maintenance, operations, and training to be followed by employers. There are also additional requirements that depend on the classification of a forklift and its use. Businesses that use forklifts should adhere to safety and compliance requirements for operating forklifts.

Violations of the Powered Industrial Trucks are Consistently on the OSHA Top Ten Most Frequently Cited Safety and Health Violations

Every year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) releases a list of the top ten most frequently cited safety and health violations for the fiscal year. Violations of the Powered Industrial Trucks, general industry (29 CFR 1910.178) are consistently on the list; and were ranked 7th for the FY2020. Several thousand injuries related to forklifts occur in U.S. workplaces every year.

According to OSHA, tip-overs are the leading cause of fatalities involving forklifts, representing about 25% of all forklift-related deaths. Common forklift problems that lead to worker injuries include three directly related to employer compliance and two related to driver responsibilities. Employer compliance issues include:

  • Failure to provide or inadequate operator training;
  • Failure to provide or ensure the use of seat belts; and
  • Defective equipment that is not taken out of service.

Common problems that relate to worker responsibilities include:

  • Failure to conduct regular inspections before operation; and
  • Driving in an unsafe manner.

This article will focus on general compliance tips on the OSHA requirements for forklift, reach trucks, order pickers, and other powered industrial trucks.

OSHA requirements for Forklift, Reach Trucks, Order Pickers, and other Powered Industrial Trucks
  • The employer must assess the types of equipment used. Any equipment with cargo and driver is a “powered industrial truck.” The regulations apply to forklifts, powered pallet jacks, order pickers, reach trucks, and powered pallet jacks.
  • The employer’s safety program must be specific to the workplace. Assessment of the workplace is a must to identify hazards and provide guidance to operators during training. The assessment would include elevated storage, low ceilings, uneven surfaces, high noise areas, oversize loads, and use of attachments such as drum clamps or fork extensions.
  • Safety equipment must be available and be properly maintained. Fall protection equipment must meet OSHA standards, and workers must be trained in its inspection and use. Platforms for elevating workers using the equipment must have guardrails and toe boards. Flushing of the eyes and body must be available where batteries are charged.
  • A program of daily equipment inspection must be implemented. Powered Industrial Lift Trucks and fall protection equipment must be properly maintained by the employer and inspected by the operator before each shift. Each piece of equipment must have its maintenance logs. If at any time a powered industrial truck is found to need repair, defective, or in any way unsafe, the truck shall be taken out of service until it is restored to safe operating condition.
  • Operators must be trained in safety procedures and licensed. Only authorized, trained, and certified drivers may operate the equipment. Drivers must be trained in how the machine works, operating skills, inspect and maintain the equipment, and any unique work hazards. There are two general types of powered industrial trucks: electric (battery) powered and internal combustion engine (gas/LPG/diesel) powered. Each of these general types has a variety of different configurations and attachments. For electric-powered equipment, drivers must be trained in battery charging safety. For equipment powered by propane, gasoline, or diesel, drivers must be trained in fueling safety, fuel storage, and fire prevention.
  • Drivers must demonstrate proficiency in inspection and operation. It is a violation of Federal law for anyone UNDER 18 years old to operate a forklift or for anyone OVER 18 years old who is not properly trained and certified to do so. Each operator must have their operation of a Powered Industrial Lift Truck evaluated by a competent person, and the results given to the employee and supervisors. The employer shall certify that each operator is well trained and assessed as required. The certification shall include the operator’s name, the date of the training, the date of the evaluation, and the identity of the person(s) performing the training or assessment. The driver’s performance must be assessed individually in writing no less than every three years.Safety and Compliance Requirements for Forklifts
  • Retraining is needed when the workplace or equipment changes. Most companies schedule periodic retraining for their operators. An evaluation of each operator’s proficiency and knowledge must occur no less than every three years and lead by a competent person. Retraining is mandatory when the workplace changes, the equipment changes, the operator involved in an accident or near-miss incident, or an evaluation of the employee’s vehicle operation shows deficiencies.
  • A written program of compliance must be maintained. The employer must keep written records of all procedures, maintenance, disciplinary actions, equipment inspections, and training activities. The program should be evaluated periodically to ensure that it is effective.

Martin Technical encourages organizations to develop a robust workplace safety strategy by scheduling regular workplace safety training.

Other Useful Resources

OSHA Safe Forklifts Operation Quick Card 

Sample Daily Checklists for a variety of Powered Industrial Trucks 

Sample Daily Checklists for Powered Industrial Trucks

Maintenance and Operation Compliance Tips for Employers