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How to Stay Safe and Compliant With OSHA’s Forklift Standards

Toby Graham /

Do you know everything you need to know about the 10 most frequently cited Occupational Health and Safety Administration standards? In this series, we’re exploring the most common OSHA violations, one by one. Keep reading to learn OSHA’s forklift rules and safety standards.

OSHA Forklift Safety: What It Is

OSHA definition: “Powered industrial trucks, commonly called forklifts or lift trucks, are used in many industries, primarily to move materials. They can be used to move, raise, lower, or remove large objects or a number of smaller objects on pallets or in boxes, crates, or other containers.

The hazards commonly associated with powered industrial trucks vary depending on the vehicle type and the workplace where the truck is used. Each type of truck presents different operating hazards. For example, a sit-down, counterbalanced high lift rider truck is more likely than a motorized hand truck to be involved in a falling load accident, because the sit-down rider truck can lift a load much higher than a hand truck. Workplace conditions also present different hazards. For example, retail establishments often face greater challenges than other worksites in maintaining pedestrian safety.

The best way to protect employees from injury also depends on the type of truck operated and worksite where it is being used.” (Source)

Simple definition: Forklifts, which OSHA likes to call “powered industrial trucks,” are useful vehicles. Countless businesses rely on forklifts to move large/heavy objects.

However, the things that make forklifts useful also make them dangerous. Accidents happen throughout businesses and industries. Loads can fall and crush people. Forklifts can tip over, injuring drivers and workers nearby. Pedestrians can get hit, which is especially common in workplaces where a lot of people are moving around on foot. These risks vary by industry and kind of forklift being used.

OSHA’s forklift rules cover issues such as the following:

  • the maximum weight a forklift can safely carry at one time
  • how a load should be balanced on the forklift
  • how materials should be raised and lowered via forklift
  • forklift operator training
  • safe speeds for driving a forklift
  • how to safely use a forklift around pedestrians
  • how to use forklifts to safely transport hazardous materials
  • how to use forklifts on moving ships, and in and around docks and other loading zones

For OSHA’s full list of standards, click here.

Why OSHA Forklift Violations Happen

There are two primary kinds of forklift-related accidents. The first is when forklifts tip over. Often, this is due to balancing issues—the weight of the load exceeds the weight of the forklift, or the load wasn’t positioned properly. Other times, it happens when forklifts are driven too fast—the forklift turns too quickly or hits an obstacle, and the operator loses control.

The second leading cause of forklift violations is pedestrian accidents. Perhaps a forklift operator doesn’t see a pedestrian (e.g. because the pedestrian is obscured by the load), or a pedestrian isn’t paying attention and walks in front of a forklift. Sometimes, a load falls or a forklift tips over and strikes a bystander. Other times, pedestrians may be injured or killed by a forklift falling off a loading dock or other elevated platform, or when they themselves fall from an elevated pallet or tine (the “arm” of a forklift).

Keep in mind that it’s illegal for anyone under 18 years old to operate a forklift. Additionally, drivers who are of age must undergo extensive training and certification before they can legally operate a forklift. Many accidents involve operators who aren’t allowed, trained, or certified to be behind the wheel.

What You Stand to Lose When Forklift Safety Violations Happen

Direct costs: OSHA penalties can exceed $13,000 per violation—and as much per day for every day the issue hasn’t been fixed by OSHA’s deadline. The fine for a willful or repeated violation can be 10 times as much.

Indirect costs:

  • workers’ compensation claims from workers who have sustained an injury due to forklift misuses
  • lost productivity due to injuries caused by accidents
  • expenses related to damaged or broken forklifts, or damaged/broken materials that were dropped or struck by a forklift
  • legal and compliance fees
  • decreased morale
  • negative publicity and reputational damage

Signs You’re at Risk of a Forklift Safety Violation

You work in a high-risk industry: Retail and warehousing workers are particularly prone to forklift safety incidents. That’s because there’s several forklifts in use at a particular time, as well as a lot of foot traffic nearby. Accidents can happen in any environment where pedestrians and forklifts occupy the same space. Workers also face risks in any industry where they need to handle and transport hazardous chemicals or other hazardous materials.

Your employees aren’t trained or certified: All forklift operators must undergo training and certification. Everyone, regardless of whether they operate forklifts, must be trained on forklift safety procedures—how to keep themselves and others safe when forklifts are in use.

Forklift operators are driving recklessly: A forklift driver needs to wear their seatbelt and observe speed limits at all times. 

Forklifts aren’t being inspected on a regular basis: Every forklift should be carefully inspected and maintained between uses.

How to Avoid a Forklift Violation: Your Prevention Checklist

1. Are all forklift operators trained? Forklift training covers numerous topics, including engine operation, steering and maneuvering controls, specific instructions and precautions for different makes and models of vehicles, the differences between forklifts and automobiles (cars and trucks), loading and unloading, forklift capacity and stability, refueling/charging, inspections and maintenance, signs and posted warnings to look out for, and more.

2. Are all forklift operators certified? You must certify that each operator has been trained and evaluated in accordance with OSHA’s standard. Certification should include the name of the operator, the date of training, the date of the evaluation, and the identity of the person or people who performed the training or evaluation.

3. Has the general employee population undergone forklift safety training? OSHA expects your workers to know how to spot hazards and protect themselves and others around forklifts. Workers should be keeping a safe distance from forklifts as well as platforms and ramps

4. Do all forklift drivers wear safety belts when vehicles are in operation?

5. Do forklift drivers always watch for pedestrians and observe speed limits?

6. Do forklift drivers use their horns when necessary? Horns should be used at cross aisles and in obstructed areas.

7. Are forklifts inspected before use? For a sample list of safety and operational checks, click here.

8. Are forklift operating environments adequately lit?

9. Are you taking every precaution to avoid falling loads? Loads should be balanced and wrapped in plastic to avoid spillage. When not in transport, materials should be stored properly.
For more information and guidance about preventing an OSHA forklift safety violation, please contact us.

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