April 2014

Training and educating forklift operators

By Craig Hamelund, Oregon OSHA training specialist

Many forklift operators have learned their jobs exclusively through practical experience. Is practical experience safe enough?

Forklift operators must have classroom instruction, hands-on training, and an evaluation to determine their competency. The evaluation must take place in the workplace so the trainer can observe the operator performing typical tasks in the operator's environment. Someone other than the employer can do the training and the evaluation; however, training out of the workplace must be supplemented with on-site training that covers site-specific hazards and tasks the operator will be performing.

The employer must certify that each operator has been trained and evaluated. The certification must include the operator's name, the trainer's name, and the training and evaluation dates.

Forklift operators must be re-evaluated at least once every three years and have refresher training when they are not operating their forklifts safely, after a nearmiss, when they use another type of forklift, or where there is a change in the workplace that could affect the safe operation of the forklift. (Agricultural employees must have refresher training at least annually.)

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Train with education in mind

How do you train to educate?
Here are two examples.

If a forklift operator is caught speeding where speed is restricted, he may be disciplined and required to watch a video on forklift safety – perhaps one that he has seen before. Find out why the operator was driving too fast – were there production pressures, was it a lack of enforcement, or no training? Ask him what he thinks a safe speed should be – and why. Show him that a safe, controlled speed is the best practice because the risk of an injury or a crash is reduced. Ask him to help revise or develop new forklift policies when they are necessary.

Consider a forklift operator driving with a load raised too high, causing the forklift to become unstable. Some employers might simply warn her and tell her to keep the load low "because OSHA requires it." Instead, ask her if she knew that overturns are a major cause of death and serious injury involving forklift operators.

Why do forklifts overturn?

Forklift stability consists of four things: the fulcrum point, the center of gravity, the stability triangle, and load center. As a child, you probably played on a teeter-totter, which is basically a plank balanced on a fulcrum. On a forklift, the fulcrum point is the front axle and the load is balanced by the weight of the forklift's counterweight and battery (if electric).

A forklift's center of gravity is the point at which all of the weight of the forklift is concentrated and a new center of gravity is created with every load. Imagine you're riding a tricycle – think of it as a triangle on wheels. If you peddle around a corner and shift your center of gravity forward over the front wheel, you'll tip over. If you shift your center of gravity over the rear wheels, you are less likely to tip over.

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Visualize a triangle with its base at the fulcrum point (the front axle) and its apex at the center of the rear axle (the pivot point of a rear-steering axle or the steer wheel on a three-wheel forklift). The combined center of gravity (imagine a single moving object) must stay within this triangle for the lift truck to be stable. The most stable area for handling a load is close to the front axle, or fulcrum point. If the combined center of gravity moves forward of the fulcrum point, the truck becomes unstable and tips forward.

Factors that cause a forklift to tip forward are:

If the combined center of gravity moves outside of the stability triangle, the forklift tends to tip sideways.

Factors that cause a forklift to tip sideways are:

Remember that seatbelts keep the operator in the cab during a tip over. Operators must use them when they are exposed to a tip over hazard or are traveling where they could be thrown from their seat.

Don't overlook rated capacity

All forklifts have a rated capacity – most are rated at a 24-inch load center, which is the center of standard 48-inch-long forks. The rated capacity drops as you move a load out from load center. As a rule of thumb, for every inch you move a load forward from load center, the capacity of the forklift will drop a few hundred pounds.

Front-end attachments, including fork extensions, can also reduce the capacity of a forklift. If you are using front-end attachments, know the de-rated capacity of the forklift with the attachment and mark the forklift accordingly. Remember that the manufacturer must approve in writing any modifications or additions that affect capacity or safe operation of a forklift.   ▉

Safety tips for forklift operators and pedestrians

An interactive illustration

Safety tips for forklift operators


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