Mythbusting in the Forklift World

An article about common misconceptions of what is required and what is not in regards to the safe use of forklifts in the US and Canada.

Despite the amount of reference information available regarding the safe use of forklifts in the US and Canada, or perhaps because of it, there is still a lot of misconception over what is required and what is not. Sifting through the myriad regulations, standards, manufacturer’s instructions, best practices, interpretations, directives, guidelines, policies and so on can most certainly confuse even the most stalwart among us, including your humble author. Nevertheless I’d like to take this opportunity to do my best to dispel some of the more common misconceptions that in my experience are consistently bandied about wherever forklifts are used. Do a little myth-busting if you will.

  • Myth – Forklift operators must be certified.

This is a bit tricky to get your head around for a couple of reasons. First, there are numerous dictionary definitions of the word ‘certify’ which causes confusion right off the bat as one must choose which definition is appropriate under the circumstances. Second, many factions of industry and government toss it around so freely (including the company of your author) that one could be excused for mistaking certification, under its most legally binding definition, as a requirement.

The fact of the matter is that although OSHA, the federal administrator of occupational safety and health regulations within the US, actually uses the term certify within its powered industrial truck (PIT) operator training standard, it doesn’t actually direct the term at operators but at employers.

Regulation 1910.178(l)(6) of the aforementioned PIT standard states: The employer shall certify that each operator has been trained and evaluated as required by this paragraph (l).

Notice that it’s the employer named as the entity doing the certifying or, making certain that the operator is competent to do the job. It does not say that the employer shall ensure that each operator is certified.

Compare that language to OSHA’s crane operator qualification language, The employer must ensure that…the operator is…certified to operate the equipment.

The difference is subtle but significant. OSHA expects crane operators to be certified by an accredited crane operator testing organization or an audited in house program meeting the same requirements. However with forklifts, OSHA leaves it to the employer to certify, or make certain, that operators have been trained and evaluated by a qualified person acting in accordance with the mandated PIT operator training standard.

Crane operators need to carry around an operator’s certificate of competence issued by an officially recognized certifying entity and produce it to prove their qualifications but it is the employer of a forklift operator who must provide proof of the competence of forklift operators.

In Canada, where CSA standards prevail, the term ­certify is not used at all in reference to forklift operators.

  • Myth – Forklift operator trainers must be certified.

Nope. Trainers must be qualified by way of possessing the knowledge, training and experience to train operators and evaluate their competence but no formal certification is required. However, formal training sure helps if and when regulatory or legal authorities have any reason to come a knocking.

  • Myth – Forklift operators must carry an operator’s license/certificate on them while using a forklift.

Mostly false, with the exception of the Canadian province of Manitoba, neither an operator’s certificate nor an automobile driver’s license is required to operator a forklift. Issuing a certificate is a good idea and something I personally encourage if for no other reason than it’s a quick, easy way for a supervisor to confirm an operator has been formally qualified. Company and/or worksite policies may exceed regulation and require operators to carry a certificate. Using a forklift on a public road requires operators to be licensed (and insured) but other than that they are not required.

  • Myth – Forklift operators must be re-certified/re-trained every three years.

Again, a great idea and good safety practice but to be clear, regulations and the standards they reference call for the operators’ knowledge and skill to be re-evaluated at least every three years, less in some jurisdictions. Training only needs to be done if the results of such evaluations show it is needed. In other words, operators need to be tested every three years and if they flunk the tests they need refresher training and then retesting. Keep in mind that training and evaluation may need to be done before the specified time interval if performance issues become apparent or there are changes/modification to the forklift or type of forklift used as well as any changes in the operators’ tasks and/or working environment that could affect their safety.

  • Myth – Once qualified, operators can operate anywhere.

No way. An operator’s qualifications are specific to the workplace in which they were issued and are not portable. Every regulatory jurisdiction within Canada and the US expects operator training to be tailored to the site and equipment-specifics of the worksite. In fact, the OSHA PIT standard explicitly states that an “evaluation of the operator’s performance in the workplace” be conducted and only acknowledges previous training when the employer can show that: a) it met the requirements of the PIT standard, b) addressed the site and equipment specifics found in the workplace and c) the operator was able to demonstrate competent hands-on operation of the forklift they were assigned to use.

Canadian CSA standards call for “upgrade” training to occur whenever anything changes with the equipment used, the environment or the types of tasks performed.

In any case, it is highly unlikely that new hires or transferees are going to arrive at a new work site with the specific operator qualifications needed to simply carry on without any additional training and even if they did, the new employer would still need to evaluate them on their machine(s).

I could go on but as I said earlier, these are a few of the misconceptions I come across regularly. I hope that this has helped and not added to any of the confusion.

Rob Vetter
Director of Training
IVES Training Group

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