OSHA Forklift Standard: A Guide to Safe Powered Industrial Trucks Operation

operator following the osha forklift standard

Powered industrial trucks, such as forklifts, ranked fifth among the Most Frequently Cited OSHA Standards in Fiscal Year 2023. OSHA forklift accident statistics report that forklifts are responsible for approximately 85 fatalities and 34,900 serious injuries annually in the United States, with forklift overturns as the leading cause of these fatalities, accounting for about 25% of all forklift-related deaths. These statistics underscore the critical need for stringent forklift safety rules and adherence to the OSHA forklift standard.

This guide provides a comprehensive overview of the OSHA forklift regulations, emphasizing the importance of proper forklift training and safe operating practices to prevent accidents.

Overview of OSHA Forklift Standard (29 CFR 1910.178)

OSHA Forklift Standard 29 CFR 1910.178 is designed to ensure the safe operation of forklifts and other powered industrial trucks in the workplace. This standard encompasses a wide range of safety requirements and practices that employers must implement to protect their workers. Here’s a detailed overview:

Locations for Use

Forklifts must be used in environments suitable for their design and capabilities. This includes ensuring that the surfaces they operate on are stable and strong enough to support the load and the forklift. Powered industrial trucks should not be used on surfaces that are likely to collapse or where there is a risk of them tipping over.

Safety Guards

Forklifts must be equipped with an overhead guard to protect the operator from falling objects. Additionally, if the nature of the work poses a risk of objects entering the operator’s compartment, other protective measures, such as screens or additional guards, should be used.

Fuel Handling and Storage

Proper procedures must be followed for the safe handling and storage of fuels. This includes storing fuel in appropriate containers, away from ignition sources, and ensuring that refueling is done in well-ventilated areas to prevent fire hazards.

Changing and Charging Storage Batteries

OSHA standards outline specific guidelines for safely changing and charging batteries. This includes:

    • Designating a safe, well-ventilated area for forklift battery charging.
    • Ensuring appropriate ventilation to avoid the accumulation of explosive gases.
    • Providing necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers handling batteries.
    • Using proper lifting techniques and equipment to handle heavy batteries safely.


OSHA Forklift Operator Training and Forklift Certification

Operator training is a cornerstone of the OSHA forklift standard. All forklift operators must be properly trained and certified, covering various aspects of forklift operation, including the vehicle’s controls and instrumentation, engine or motor operation, steering and maneuvering, visibility, and the limitations of the vehicle. Refresher training is required if an operator is involved in an accident, observed operating forklifts unsafely, or is assigned to drive a different type of lift truck.

How old must you be to operate a forklift?

According to OSHA, it is a violation of federal law for anyone under 18 years of age to operate a forklift. Additionally, individuals over 18 years of age must be properly trained and certified to operate a forklift legally. This regulation ensures that only qualified and mature individuals handle lift trucks, thereby reducing the risk of forklift accidents and ensuring occupational safety.


Essential Forklift Safety Rules

Adhering to forklift safety rules is essential for preventing accidents and ensuring the well-being of operators and other workers.

Pre-Operation: Forklift Maintenance Routines and Inspection

According to OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.178(q)(7), industrial trucks must be thoroughly examined before being placed into service each day. If any condition is found that could compromise forklift safety, the lift truck should not be used until the issue is corrected. In operations where industrial trucks are used continuously, inspections should be conducted after each shift. Any defects discovered during these inspections must be reported immediately and corrected before the forklift is put back into service.

Pre shift inspections should include checking for any visible damage to the forklift, such as cracks, dents, or missing parts. Operators should ensure that all safety devices, such as seat belts and overhead guards, are in place and functioning correctly. Checking fluid levels, including oil, hydraulic fluid, and coolant, is also essential to ensure the forklift operates smoothly throughout the shift.

OSHA Forklift: Traveling & Maneuvering

Proper techniques for mounting, dismounting, speed control, and navigating turns help maintain stability and control, reducing the risk of collisions and tipovers.

Mounting and Dismounting: Safe practices for mounting and dismounting a forklift are crucial to prevent slips and falls. Operators should always use the steps and handholds provided, maintaining three points of contact (two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand) when getting on or off the forklift. It’s important to face the forklift while climbing on or off and to never jump from the vehicle. Wearing appropriate footwear with non-slip soles further reduces the risk of forklift injuries and accidents.

Starting/Stopping: Before starting a forklift, conduct a thorough pre-operation inspection and perform an operational check after starting the engine to ensure all systems are functioning correctly. Make sure the path is clear, sound the horn as a warning if visibility is obstructed, or use a spotter if needed. Proceed cautiously, watching for blind spots.

When stopping, select a proper parking area, avoiding unauthorized spots and blocking aisles or exits. Apply the brake slowly, bring the forklift to a complete stop, neutralize the controls, set the parking brake, and turn off the ignition. If parking on an incline, block the wheels to prevent rolling. These practices ensure safe operation and secure parking of the forklift.

Operating at Speed: Powered industrial trucks, like forklifts, must operate at a speed that allows safe stopping under all conditions, with reduced speed on wet or slippery floors. Drivers should always look in the direction of travel, slow down, and sound the horn at cross aisles or obstructed areas, and travel with the load trailing if the forward view is blocked. Turns should be negotiated at a reduced speed using smooth, sweeping motions. Gradients should be ascended or descended slowly, with loads facing uphill on steep grades, and loose objects on the roadway should be avoided to maintain stability.

Steering, Turning, and Changing Direction: Cautious and deliberate steering, turning, and changing direction are necessary to maintain control of the forklift. Operators should make wide, gradual turns to prevent tipping and always look in the direction of travel. It’s essential to avoid sharp turns, especially when carrying a load, as this can destabilize the forklift. Using the horn when approaching intersections or blind spots can alert others to the forklift's presence and prevent collisions.

Traveling on Inclines: When operating on inclines, specific precautions must be taken to maintain stability. Forklifts should always be driven forward when ascending an incline and in reverse when descending, especially when carrying a load. This positioning helps prevent the load from shifting and maintains the center of gravity within safe limits. Operators should also avoid making turns on inclines to prevent tipping.

Parking: A powered industrial truck is considered "unattended" when the forklift driver is 25 feet or more away from the vehicle, even if it remains in view, or whenever the operator leaves the vehicle and it is not in view. When left unattended, the forklift's load engaging means must be fully lowered, controls neutralized, power shut off, and brakes set; wheels should be blocked if parked on an incline. Forklifts should only be parked in authorized areas, avoiding fire aisles, stairways, or fire equipment, and should not block traffic. Always set the direction lever in neutral and lock the mechanism, if available, when parking the forklift.

Safe Travel Practices: Operators should keep a safe distance from other vehicles and pedestrians, use warning signals when necessary, and avoid sudden stops or turns. Ensuring clear visibility is crucial; if the load obstructs the operator’s view, they should drive in reverse or use a spotter. Understanding the forklift’s stability triangle and avoiding overloading can prevent tip-overs, one of the most common and dangerous forklift accidents.

Visibility: Equip powered industrial trucks with headlights in areas where general lighting is less than two lumens per square foot, or when working at night, outdoors, or in dimly lit environments. Drive slowly when entering or exiting warehouses or buildings, as moving from bright daylight into a dark area can temporarily blind forklift operators, increasing the risk of collisions.

Be especially cautious on loading docks, using physical barriers like ramps, raised concrete staging areas, safety chains, guard rails, and a "warning track" of yellow paint near dock openings to prevent forklift accidents; always slow down and sound the horn at cross aisles and other areas with obstructed vision.

Tipover: There are two basic types of forklift tipovers: a forward tip or longitudinal tip, and a lateral or side tip. Operators should be trained to recognize situations that might lead to a tipover, such as turning too quickly or carrying an uneven load. In the event of a tipover, it is safer to stay in the operator’s seat, hold on firmly, and lean away from the direction of the fall rather than trying to jump out.

OSHA Forklift: Load Handling

operator avoiding forklift rollovers

Knowing the correct methods for load handling ensures stability and efficiency, reducing the likelihood of accidents and equipment damage.

Safe Handling Preparation: This includes verifying that the load is stable, secure, and within the forklift’s weight capacity. Operators should also check that the load is evenly distributed to prevent imbalance and potential tipovers. Ensuring the path is clear of obstacles and hazards is crucial, as it allows for smooth and safe transport.

Approaching: When approaching a load, operators should do so slowly and carefully. Stop 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 inches) in front of the load and align the forklift squarely with the load to ensure even weight distribution and stability. Approaching the load at the correct angle helps in positioning the forks accurately beneath the load. It’s important to avoid sudden movements and to approach the load with the forks at the correct height to prevent damage and ensure a secure lift.

Mast Position: The position of the mast plays a critical role in maintaining stability during load handling. The mast should be kept vertical or slightly tilted back when lifting and transporting loads. This positioning helps keep the center of gravity within safe limits and prevents the load from shifting. Avoid tilting the mast forward, as this can destabilize the forklift and increase the risk of tipovers. Ensuring the mast is in the correct position is crucial for safe load handling.

Fork Position: While moving the forks into position, be aware of tipover, dropped load, and collision. The forks should be spaced evenly and positioned fully under the load to provide maximum support. Slide the forks fully under the load, ensuring they are at least two-thirds the length of the load, and be careful not to extend the forks through to the other side where pallets are closely stacked. Correct fork positioning ensures stability and reduces the risk of forklift accidents.

Lifting the Load: Operators should raise the load only to the height necessary for transport, avoiding excessive lifting that could lead to instability. OSHA guidelines recommend lifting the load up above the lower stack by about 10 cm (4 inches). It’s also important to check that the path is clear and that the load is secure before lifting.

Lowering the Load: To ensure load stability, carefully tilt the mast backward before moving. Secure the load, then slowly move the forklift to a position 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 inches) away from the stack and stop the lift truck. Return the mast to the vertical position before lowering the load to a height of 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) from the floor. While traveling, keep the load at a safe travel height to maintain stability and safety.

High Tiering: When high tiering, place the heaviest loads on the bottom tier and the lightest loads on the top. Reduce the load weight below the reach truck's capacity as the mast extends fully, and slowly and carefully extend the reach mechanism forward when placing the load on the top tier. Use extreme care when tilting a load forward or backward, especially at higher levels, to maintain stability and safety.


Common Forklift Accidents

Understanding common forklift accidents can help in developing strategies to prevent them. Some frequent types of fatal forklift accidents include:

1. Crushed by Vehicle Tipping Over

Forklift tipovers are one of the most common and extreme types of forklift accidents. These incidents typically occur when a forklift is driven too fast, especially around corners, or when it carries an unbalanced or excessively heavy load. Operating on uneven surfaces or inclines without proper caution can also lead to tipping. When a forklift tips over, the operator can be crushed by the vehicle if they attempt to jump out instead of staying in the seat and leaning away from the direction of the fall.

2. Crushed Between Vehicle and a Surface

Forklift accidents where individuals are crushed between a forklift and a surface usually happen in tight or confined spaces. This can occur if the forklift is backing up or moving forward without the operator checking blind spots or ensuring a clear path. Lack of communication and improper signaling in areas with limited visibility can result in workers being pinned between the forklift and walls, racks, or other surfaces.

3. Crushed Between Two Vehicles

Being crushed between two vehicles often happens in busy or congested areas where multiple forklifts and other vehicles are operating simultaneously. This type of accident can occur if operators are not aware of their surroundings or fail to communicate effectively with each other. Sudden movements, lack of space, and failure to maintain safe distances between vehicles contribute to these dangerous situations.

4. Struck or Run Over by a Forklift

Forklift accidents involve pedestrians usually occur when operators are not vigilant, or when pedestrians are unaware of forklift operations around them. Poor visibility, especially when the forklift is carrying large or obstructive loads, can lead to these accidents. Lack of clear pathways, inadequate use of warning signals, and insufficient forklift training on pedestrian safety around forklift trucks also play significant roles.

5. Struck by Falling Material

Workers can be struck by materials falling from a forklift if the load is not properly secured. This can happen if the forklift operator lifts or lowers the load too quickly, or if the load is unbalanced on the forks. Stacking loads too high or not using appropriate securing methods can cause items to fall during transport. Ensuring loads are stable and securely fastened before moving is critical to preventing such forklift accidents.

6. Fall from Platform on the Forks

Falls from platforms on the forks occur when workers are lifted to heights on improvised platforms or pallets. These makeshift platforms can be unstable and are not designed for lifting people. Forklift accidents can happen if the platform tips, if the worker loses their balance, or if the forklift operator makes sudden movements. Using proper approved lifting equipment for personnel and ensuring safe practices when lifting workers are essential to preventing falls from platforms.

Understanding and adhering to the OSHA forklift standard is essential for maintaining a safe and efficient workplace. Prioritizing forklift safety not only protects workers but also enhances productivity and operational efficiency. By fostering a culture of safety and compliance, organizations can ensure a safer environment for everyone involved in forklift operations.


FAQs about OSHA Forklift Standard

What is the standard forklift specification?

The standard forklift specification includes guidelines on design, construction, stability, and load handling to ensure safety and compliance with OSHA regulations.

What is the load capacity of a forklift OSHA?

OSHA requires that each forklift's load capacity be clearly marked on the vehicle's data plate, and operators must adhere to these specified limits to ensure safe operation.

What is OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.178 wheel chocks?

OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.178 mandates the use of wheel chocks to prevent trailers from moving while forklifts are loading or unloading, enhancing safety during these operations.

Does the OSHA 1910.178 standard require a forklift operator?

Yes, OSHA 1910.178 requires that only trained and certified operators are allowed to operate forklifts to ensure safe and competent handling of the equipment.

Does OSHA require a daily forklift inspection?

Yes, OSHA requires that forklifts be inspected daily before use to identify and address any safety or operational issues, ensuring the forklift is in safe working condition.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.