In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the governing body over forklifts in the workplace. Forklifts are a tool, and like any tool, can be extremely dangerous if not handled properly and by trained and authorized users. In order to reduce the injuries from forklifts, regulations have been established to guide employers on how to manage authorized operators.
Forklifts do not have their own section of regulations and are instead included in a more broad category called Powered Industrial Trucks, or PITs. These can be found in the Code of Federal regulations 1910.178 and are all publicly available to read on the Department of Labor Website. This includes forklifts, powered pallet jacks, and any other motorized material handler that does not fit into other categories. A crane, for example, would not be included, as they have their own regulatory section within OSHA.
There are two main components of the regulations. The first is the equipment itself. Employers must make sure the equipment is not only safe to use as it stands, but also that the tool being used is the right one for the job. Just like cars, there are many varieties of lifts that could be used. Significant differences would be tires, load capacity, and size. A less common example could be explosion resistant forklifts that may be required in a work environment with a high amount of combustible dust. Many employers lease forklift equipment to reduce the burden of maintenance and to establish strong records, but there is no requirement to do so.
The second prong of regulations is based on the employee who is to operate the equipment. Before anyone can use a piece of equipment, they must be trained and evaluated. OSHA does not require a normal driver’s license to operate a forklift, however they do require that an operator be at least 18 years old. Many of the safety responsibilities fall on the operator, but they must be fully aware of the hazards to exercise that responsibility. Simply put, the employer must give them the tools they need, including knowledge, and the employee must use these tools to operate in a safe manner. This starts with a daily inspection before operation and extends throughout the day with following traffic patterns, using horns often, and always yielding to pedestrians. Identifying a competent and skilled employee as a trainer will be critical in maintaining a forklift program.
Every workplace will have different considerations, but all are based on similar factors. The intent is to reduce injuries, and these regulations are designed to help the employer maintain a safe workplace. It is important to keep your trainers up to date on any changing regulations and to regularly audit them to ensure they are passing along the best information to the operators they train. Safety should not be a bad word in the workplace; it should be built into every system for the good of every worker and the business as a whole.