Forklifts, also known as Powered Industrial Trucks (PIT), are used in numerous work settings, primarily to move materials. Each year in the United States, nearly 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 are seriously injured in forklift-related incidents. Forklift overturns are the leading cause of these fatalities representing about 25% of all forklift-related deaths. In order to reduce the potential for a forklift related accident OSHA requires employers to certify employees in the proper operation of forklifts, properly maintain the lifts and train those who may come into contact with lifts on hazards and best practices. In terms of certification many believe this is something that has to be completed through private contractors. However, OSHA regulations allow you to certify your own employees through the creation of an OSHA-complaint program. Independent studies have confirmed forklift training reduces operator errors by 70%. [2]

Fork Hazards

Each year in the U.S. more than 20,000 workers are injured and 100 killed in forklift related accidents. [1] As a further illustration of the risk associated with forklift operation OSHA estimates that of the 1 million forklifts in the United States two-thirds are involved in an accident in their normal eight-year life span. [2] These incidents are attributed to three causes according to OSHA:
  1. Insufficient or inadequate forklift training - On April 25, 1995, a 37-year-old shop foreman was fatally injured after the sit-down type forklift he was operating overturned. The victim was turning while backing down an incline with a 4% grade. The forklift was transporting a 3-foot-high, 150-pound stack of cardboard with the forks raised approximately 60 inches off the ground. No one witnessed the incident. The victim was found with his head pinned under the overhead guard. With proper training, the operator would have known to keep the forks low and to avoid turning on an incline. [3]
  2. Failure to follow safe forklift operating procedures - On October 19, 1995, a 39-year-old female punch press operator was fatally injured by a forklift traveling in reverse at high speed toward the victims' workstation. A witness observed the forklift strike a metal scrap bin (about 3 by 5 by 3½ feet), propelling it toward the punch press station. The bin hit the press and rebounded toward the forklift. There it was hit once again and shoved back against the corner of the press, striking and crushing the victim against the press. If the driver had followed proper speed requirements, the accident could have been avoided. [2]
  3. Lack of safety rule enforcement - On September 6, 1995, a 47-year-old warehouse manager was fatally injured while working with a forklift operator to pull tires from a storage rack. The two workers had placed a wooden pallet on the forks of the forklift, and the victim then stood on the pallet. The operator raised the forks and victim 16 feet above a concrete floor to the top of the storage rack. While retrieving merchandise the victim fell and fatally struck his head on the floor. The act was a violation of one of OSHA's most basic forklift safety regulations and completely avoidable. [2]

Most Common Causes of Forklift Fatalities

  • Forklift overturns (22%)
  • Worker on foot struck by forklift (20%)
  • Victim crushed by forklift (16%)
  • Fall from forklift (9%)

Death and Injury Can Cripple Your Company

Workplace deaths and injuries are heartbreaking to families and financially crippling to employers. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates these injuries and deaths cost employers $1 billion a week in worker's compensation costs. And when lost productivity, increased insurance premiums and other costs are added in, the total economic impact of occupational accidents is more than $4 billion a week or $668 for every citizen in the United States. [5] An annual study conducted by the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety in 2010, revealed that the direct cost to employers from injuries in 2008 was $53.42 billion. [6] Furthermore, the study concluded that accidents at the workplace were estimated to cost employers an additional $80 to $200 billion annually. A second report by the U.S. Department of Labor cemented the finding of the insurance groups report. This report stated the average workplace injury cost an employer $43,000. The same study estimated the cost from wage replacement due to injury to be roughly $50 billion a year. "An accident at the workplace can often be the difference between operating in the black and falling into the red," said Safety Services Company CEO Devon Dickinson. In addition to the financial ramifications due to health related issues, OSHA can fine employers for not having a policy in place. These fines start at $7,000.

OSHA Requirements Intervention

To protect employers and employees from the danger of operating forklifts OSHA crafted regulation 29 CFR 1910.178, which outlays a strict series of training, operating and maintenance requirements for all companies utilizing PITs. This next chapter is a survey of some of the requirements in forklift operation that a novice may not know.

Forklift Operation

Your employees need training on the basics of forklift operation. These topics must include:
  • The proper distance forks are to be raised when transporting a load and the operating of the forks while the lift is moving in a forward or reverse direction. [29 CFR 1910.178 (n)(7)(iii)].
  • The safe speeds at which the forklift is to operate to facilitate proper stopping. [29 CFR 1910.178 (n)(8)].
  • The operator is required to look forward and keep a clear view of the travel path [29 CFR 1910.178(n)(6)].
  • The riding on a lift by a person other than the primary operator. [29 CFR 1910.178 (m)(3)].
  • The driving of forklifts into fixed objects that other objects may be resting on. These objects include benches, tables and more.[29 1910.178 (m)(1)]


A number of factors including size, weight, shape, and position of the load affect the stability of a loaded truck. Also affecting the stability is the height at which the load is elevated, the amount of forward or backward tilt, tire pressure, and the dynamic forces created when the truck is moving. Your employees must be trained in controlling these variables to maintain proper stability.

Forklift Maintenance

OSHA requires you to properly maintain your forklifts. Through this maintenance program your employees are required to examine their truck each day before placing the vehicle in service or, if the trucks are operated around the clock, they need to be inspected prior to the start of each shift. If the truck shows any condition adversely affecting the safety of the vehicle, that vehicle shall immediately be taken out of service and repaired. [29 CFR 1910.178(q)(7)]. A few examples of these conditions can include:
  • Defective/unadjusted brakes
  • Damaged mast chain
  • Play in steering
  • Sparks from exhaust/truck
  • Inoperable horn
  • Defective controls
  • Damaged chain anchor pin
  • Worn tires/damaged rims
  • Inoperable gauges
  • Not running well/missing
  • Dislodged/defective counterweight
  • Damaged overhead guard/LBR
  • Wear/defects in the forks/carriage
  • Cracks/defects in mast/structure
  • Missing/non legible data plate
  • Evidence of leaks (i.e. hydraulics, fuel)

Modifications and replacement parts

OSHA regulations strictly forbid the alteration of your forklift without manufacturer's approval and require you to use exact replacement parts. Common cited modifications include the installation of a taller or heavier mast and adding ballast to the back of the truck to increase its lifting capacity. Another modification that many operators unknowingly perform with an electric forklift is using a cheaper replacement battery. Stock electric batteries often weigh several thousand pounds and cost thousands of dollars. By installing a smaller battery, you can save hundreds of dollars. However, these cheaper batteries are lighter and modify the lifting capacity and stability of the lift. This significantly increases the potential for an accident.

Warning Devices

A horn is one of the warning devices you are required to have on all your lifts. Your drivers also must be trained on when to use this horn. The most common usage is when the driver is navigating the lift through areas that may have blind spots. A blind spot is by definition any place in the direction of travel the driver cannot see without special effort. In addition to the horn, the lift is required to have functioning back up buzzers, bell or other audible device. [29 CFR 1910.178 (n)(4)]. Refresher Training Refresher training must be provided at least every 3 years. In addition to the retraining, OSHA requires your employees to receive regular evaluations. If improper techniques are observed during evaluation then re-training is required. Here is a list of some things to look for when evaluating:
  • loading
  • ramps/inclines
  • stacking
  • ALL traveling
  • fueling/charging
  • using attachments
  • inspecting
  • tiering
  • pedestrians
  • visibility
  • parking/shutting down
  • lifting/lowering
  • maneuvering
  • docks
  • horn
  • floor surfaces
  • driving in reverse
  • accessing/egressing truck

Safety for non-operators and your workplace

Many of the accidents involving forklifts each year are at no fault of the driver. In these cases, workplace conditions or actions of employees not utilizing the lift were at fault for the accidents. In cases such as these, the conditions of the workplace or actions of employees not utilizing the lift were at fault for the accidents. It is because of these extenuating circumstances that OSHA not only requires training for your direct users of lifts, but also requires you to maintain the workplace and train all those who have the potential to come in contact with lifts. In terms of maintaining the workplace, you must check for cracks in surfaces, pooling of water or any other potential hazard. Some topics of training for non-lift operators may include:
  • Limit some aisles to workers on foot only or forklifts only
  • Restrict the use of forklifts near time clocks, break rooms, cafeterias, and main exits, particularly when the flow of workers on foot is at a peak (such as at the end of a shift or during breaks)
  • Install physical barriers where practical to ensure that workstations are isolated from aisles traveled by forklifts
  • Evaluate intersections and other blind corners to determine whether overhead dome mirrors could improve the visibility of forklift operators or workers on foot
  • Make every effort to alert workers when a forklift is nearby. Use horns, audible backup alarms, and flashing lights to warn workers and other forklift operators in the area
  • Flashing lights are especially important in areas where the ambient noise level is high

Impact of Training

Training is an important part of eliminating job place injuries. Studies of forklift specific training show a 70% reduction in operator errors. [2]  Through independent studies, OSHA has confirmed employers who have in place a safety and health training program experience a 52 percent lower rate of "injury with days away" than employers without a program. [7] A second study of private industry employers by OSHA found even more benefits to a safety training program. Here are a few highlights of those programs:

Company Benefits: [8]

  • Average Sales rose 7.5 percent
  • Manufacturing defects and waste dropped from $2.7 million in 2001 to $435,000 in 2005
  • Improved decision-making
  • Emergency Modification Rate dropped by 45%

Safety and health also make big reductions in indirect costs, due to: [9]

  • Increased productivity
  • Higher quality products
  • Increased morale
  • Better labor/management relations
  • Reduced turnover
  • Better use of human resources
The value of training is further emphasized by a study of 41 workers hospitalized for hand injuries. Through the survey of these employees conducted by members of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) it was discovered more than half had no on-the-job training for the equipment that caused their injury. Workplaces that establish safety and health management systems can reduce their injury and illness costs by 20 to 40 percent, according to OSHA. Studies not only show the impact safety training has in increasing productivity and preventing injury. It shows the value training has to prevent casualties. [7] A NIOSH study of 55 confined workplace fatalities found that only three of those losing their lives ever received training on the proper workplace safety procedures. A study of the California insurance industry also revealed that every dollar invested in safety training resulted in $3 or more dollars in savings," Safety training is not a cost, it is an investment.

A Simpler Forklift Safety Solution

By requesting and reading this report, you are no doubt aware of the hazards associated with forklifts and the long list of regulations your company must abide by. Meeting these regulations is a tedious process that requires you either to develop a training program yourself or to outsource with expensive safety consultants. There is a better solution. Here at Safety Services Company we have developed a "Do-It-Yourself" training program that is both simple to administer and fulfills all your OSHA forklift requirements. Three Steps to Certification Our $449.99 kit is a simple three-step solution that brings all your employees into compliance.
  1. Classroom/online training
    • The first step of our program is an intuitive electronic training session. Through the program, employees navigate an electronic training program at a computer and then take an automatically graded test. If computers are not available materials are printable for a traditional classroom or onsite training seminar.
  2. Field training
    • The second part of training is in the field. During this portion of the session, your appointed trainer shows the trainee the infield applications of the materials they learned in the classroom session.
  3. Evaluation
    • The third and final step to the training session is evaluation. Through this step, the trainer evaluates the trainee and either signs off on certification or retouches on topics that need more work.
All certification through the program meets or exceeds OSHA requirements. In addition to providing you with the knowledge to train your employees, our kit comes with our renowned "Train the Trainer" software, that transforms your employees into gold star trainers. Our training kits cover:
  • OSHA requirements
  • Manuals
  • Safety decals and information
  • PPE
  • Inspections
  • Start-up
  • Operation
  • Hazards
  • Maneuvering
  • Maintenance
  • And much more…
When you receive your forklift training kit, the materials you will find include:
  • Student Manual
  • Instructor's manual
  • Inspection sheets
  • Training logs
  • Safety certificates
  • Wallet cards
  • Safety tests
  • CD-ROM disk
  • Training presentation
  • Software to print extra
  • Wallet cards, certificates
  • Inspection sheets, tests, etc.

Continuing Commitment

Your purchase from Safety Services not only makes you a valued customer, but also a member of the Safety Services Network. As a member of this exclusive group, we pledge to continually monitor the ever-changing safety requirements in your specific field and contact your company when a change may occur.

The 12 Industrial Truck Designations

  • D = Diesel powered trucks having minimum acceptable safeguards against fire/explosion hazards.
  • DS = Diesel powered trucks with safeguards to the exhaust, fuel, and electrical systems.
  • DY = Diesel powered trucks with all the safeguards of DS trucks plus temperature limitation features and no electrical equipment.
  • E = Electrically powered trucks having minimum acceptable safeguards against fire/explosion hazards.
  • ES = Electrically powered trucks with safeguards to the electrical system to prevent emission of hazardous sparks and to limit surface temperatures.
  • EE = Electrically powered trucks with all the safeguards of ES trucks in addition to the electric motors and all other electrical equipment completely enclosed.
  • EX = Electrically powered trucks that differ from the E, ES, or EE trucks in that the electrical fittings and equipment are so designed, constructed and assembled that the trucks may be used in certain atmospheres containing flammable vapors or dusts.
  • G = Gasoline powered trucks having minimum acceptable safeguards against fire/explosion hazards.
  • GS = Gasoline powered trucks with safeguards to the exhaust, fuel, and electrical systems.
  • LP = Liquefied petroleum powered trucks having minimum acceptable safeguards against fire/explosion hazards.
  • LPS = Liquefied petroleum powered trucks with safeguards to the exhaust, fuel, and electrical systems.
  • CNG = Compressed natural gas powered.


This publication does not itself alter or determine compliance responsibilities, which are set forth in OSHA standards themselves and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Moreover, because interpretations and enforcement policy may change over time, for additional guidance on OSHA compliance requirements, the reader should consult current and administrative interpretations and decisions by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and the Courts.