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Powered industrial trucks and material handling safety

By: Libby Reed

Risk Solutions Specialist


Businesses that move or store materials must control safety hazards to protect workers. Powered industrial trucks, such as forklifts, are commonly used for material handling. While forklifts allow workers to move heavy items instead of lifting materials by hand, they can still be exposed to hazards with the potential to cause injuries. Risk mitigation and injury prevention activities are crucial to an employer’s commitment to the safety and health of employees.

Operator training and certification
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) standard for powered industrial trucks (CFR 1910.178) requires employers to certify that each forklift operator has been trained and evaluated to operate the equipment safely. The following list provides an overview of the necessary training components. Please refer to the full standard for all requirements.

Truck-related topics:

  • Operating instructions, warnings, precautions, and limitations
  • Differences between the truck and the automobile
  • Truck controls and instrumentation
  • Engine or motor operation
  • Steering and maneuvering
  • Visibility
  • Fork and attachment adaptation, operation, and use limitations
  • Vehicle capacity and stability
  • Vehicle inspection and maintenance
  • Refueling or charging and recharging of batteries

Workplace-related topics:

  • Surface conditions
  • Composition of loads to be carried and load stability
  • Load manipulation, stacking, and unstacking
  • Pedestrian traffic
  • Narrow aisles and other restricted places
  • Hazardous locations
  • Ramps and other sloped surfaces
  • Closed environments and other areas where insufficient ventilation or poor vehicle maintenance could cause a buildup of carbon monoxide or diesel exhaust

After the initial training and certification, employers must provide refresher training and evaluations when the operator has met one or more of the following conditions: observed to operate the vehicle in an unsafe manner, involved in an accident or near-miss incident, received an evaluation that reveals that the operator is not operating the truck safely, or there is a change in workplace conditions that could affect the operation of the forklift. A performance evaluation for each operator must also be conducted at least once every three years.

Equipment maintenance
Proper equipment inspection and maintenance activities are crucial in ensuring the safety of forklift operators and nearby workers. Any forklift not in safe operating condition must be removed from service, and repairs should be made by a qualified professional using parts and processes consistent with the manufacturer’s instructions. Employers should also conduct preventative maintenance on the equipment using the manufacturer’s recommendations.

One way to facilitate good equipment maintenance practices is by having forklift operators or other designated personnel conduct daily forklift inspections. The workers may use a checklist to guide them in observing the condition and operability of the equipment before use. If any parts are found to be broken, in need of repair, or in poor condition, the forklift should be taken out of service until repairs are made.

Forklift safety rules
While there are many considerations for safely operating a forklift, the following list includes some important tips from OSHA:

  • Always operate the vehicle according to the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Always wear a seatbelt when the forklift has one
  • Never exceed the rated load and ensure it is stable and balanced
  • Do not raise or lower the load while traveling
  • Keep a safe distance from platform and ramp edges
  • Be aware of other vehicles in the work area
  • Have clear visibility of the work area and ensure you have enough clearance when raising, loading, and operating a forklift
  • Use proper footing and the handhold, if available, when entering the lift
  • Use horns at cross aisles and obstructed areas
  • Watch for pedestrians and observe the speed limit
  • Do not give rides or use the forks to lift people

For more information on powered industrial trucks, visit OSHA’s website at 

Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)