How to Become a Certified Forklift Operator

Updated on October 14, 2016

Benefits of Being Forklift-Certified

There are many reasons to get a forklift license, and often employers pay more if you are certified than they do to normal production workers. Many jobs even prefer hiring people with a background of forklift operation over less qualified individuals. It may even put you ahead of another well qualified person if you have experience and they don't.

Forklifts are so common that almost every industry depends on them in some way. Many use them directly, in the manufacturing of their products. Its far more effective to move a 2,000 box once, than to have people carry a 100 pound box 20 times to get the same amount of materials.

Others use them to load and unload trucks, a vital operation at almost any facility dealing with making or using goods. Imagine how slow the world would be if every truck was loaded by hand. Every minute it takes to load a shipment is money paid out in labor.

Certification Requirements

Certifications are not issued by government, like a driver license. Instead, it is up to the employer to either train and certify, or to verify that you have been trained by a previous company or an outside service. After being certified, you are good for three years, unless you show some deficiency through unsafe behavior or an accident.

In the United States, OSHA requires specific topics to be covered if you are to be considered "trained." A company can get into real hot water if there is an accident and it turns out the driver was not trained to their standards.

OSHA requires specific training in the topics of operator instructions, differences between the forklift an automobiles, truck controls, engine operation, steering and maneuverability, visibility, forks / attachments, load capacity, vehicle stability, inspections and maintenance, fueling and charging, operation limitations, and any specific guidelines in the operator manual.

Less specific requirements include any workplace hazards specific to your site. This could include loading docks, floor conditions, low clearance areas, and so on.

Driver Stacking Materials

Forklift Operator Stacking Materials
Forklift Operator Stacking Materials | Source

Training Providers

The requirements for a trainer are actually pretty vague. They are not asked to hold any sort of formal certificate to be a trainer. They only have to have the experience and skill to operate the equipment, and be recognized as someone who can teach others.

Many companies provide their own training in house. This is completely fine so long as they meet all the OSHA guidelines. This also opens opportunity for a good driver to become a trainer, which may either directly be a promotion, or it will show them you are capable of managing classes, speaking to groups, and following regulations. These may indirectly give you an advantage in other promotion opportunities!

The other option is to use an outside service. These are often available through the forklift manufacturers, or through a variety of safety consultants. Your insurance may even offer the service, so it never hurts to check there first. They have a vested interest in keeping your workplace accident free, so they tend to be pretty good resources.

Retraining Requirements

You are only required to be retrained if you have an accident or are seen doing something in an unsafe manner. You only have to be retrained on the topic you are shown to need improvement in, and not to do the full course. Your employer, however, may decide to make you do the entire thing, just to reinforce their workplace safety programs.


Every three years you have to be reevaluated to show you still understand the training material. This does not mean you have to do a full training program, and it can be a variety of discussion, observation, or any other method that demonstrates to a trainer you still know the subject matter.

A simple method is to make a checklist of the training requirements, and start by observing the person you are evaluating. You may be able to check off several boxes before you even talk to them, such as steering, and using the controls. Then anything you don't witness them doing, you could give them an impromptu quiz by asking them a few questions. If they seem to know everything they are expected to, you can sign them off and they are good for 3 more years.

These evaluations are more of a confirmation than a training, unless they reveal the driver needs to be refreshed on some of the subjects.

Forklift Driver With a Spotter


Building Experience

Even if you have a certification, experience may hold you back from getting your dream job. What will seal the deal is having the expertise to back up your certification card, so they know you didn't just pay to go to a course one time.

If you are currently employed, you could ask for opportunities to practice. If you can offer to help others, it not only gives you practice behind the wheel, but it also improves your relationship with coworkers. Anyone looking for a promotion or a raise can tell you, these chances to build up your teamwork and people skills are worth their weight in gold.

If you don't have a job yet, there are several options. You might be better off looking for a job at a smaller company, as they may have slower paced jobs, and that will allow them to be less picky with their drivers. You might only drive part of the time while you are at work, and you can leverage your other skills off the forklift to secure a job offer. If they need someone to drive their entire shift, they may be more focused on your experience, especially if speed is a factor, like on a production line.

Safety is extremely important, because accidents on a forklift can be severe. On top of possibly hurting someone, these accidents cost the company in repairs or medical expenses. A solid safety record will give you a huge advantage over someone with even a minor incident on their record. A good driver will respect the power of the machine, and will look out for himself and others.

Example of Site-Specific Training Course

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Forklifts Come in Many Varieties


Powered Industrial Trucks

Powered industrial trucks are a broad category of material-handling vehicles including forklifts. They must be self-propelled (move with controls, and not just by being pushed or pulled). The most obvious example is a pallet jack. Some are manual, and are not powered industrial trucks. Others can push a button to go forward or backwards, and they fall into this category.

To use two completely different powered trucks, you need to be trained on both. If they are very similar, you only need to be trained on the portion that is different, if the trainer can show you are knowledgeable on the common aspects.

Training Standards

All powered industrial trucks require the same scope of training. That doesn't mean identical training, but they all require training on each topic. This could be quite different training for a forklift than it would be for a order picker, but the topic must be covered in a way that is relevant to the specific machine the employee will be using.

Specially Designed Forklift Attachment for Barrels


Forklift Attachments

Any special attachment beyond the basic model must also be trained on, if its requirements differ from those in the standard training. In the picture above, the barrels would have different centers of gravity than a standard pallet. They may also have different controls, like gripping or releasing, depending on the machine.


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