Forklift Operator Certification: What Is It and How to Get Certified

By Indeed Editorial Team

February 10, 2022

Forklift operators use industrial trucks to lift and carry heavy loads. To drive a forklift, however, you must be certified. This certification involves several days of classroom and hands-on training, plus passing an exam. In this article, we describe the steps to become certified and answer common questions about the process.

What is a forklift operator?

A forklift operator is a professional who is responsible for transporting heavy materials using industrial machinery. Forklift operators typically work under the supervision of warehouse managers, supply chain managers or foremen at construction sites. Many organizations rely on forklift drivers to move large or heavy objects safely.

What is a forklift operator certification?

The Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) requires forklift operators to be certified before operating a lift truck, forklift or warehouse product. Forklift certification is mandatory to help reduce the number of injuries due to unsafe operation of equipment in the workplace.

Why is forklift operator certification important?

Companies use forklifts, also known as “powered industrial trucks” or “lift trucks,” to move large or heavy objects around warehouses, storage facilities and construction sites. Since these machines carry such large loads, safety for the driver and other employees is important. Focused and trained operators help prevent accidents such as overturned forklifts and worker injuries. To get a job as a forklift operator, you must be certified by OSHA so you know how to properly run the machine and reduce the risks associated with it. Simply put, you cannot legally operate a forklift if you’re certified.

When you earn certification, you help yourself by:

  • Reducing the risk of injury

  • Being well trained on various equipment

  • Contributing to job stability and possible promotions

OSHA requires forklift operators to get certified to prevent unsafe driving and injuries. By ensuring their operators are certified, employers can benefit from:

  • Safer workplaces

  • Less equipment and property damage

  • More productivity and less time and money lost due to mistakes and accidents

  • Good employee morale because the employer cares about its workers' well-being

  • Lower insurance rates

  • Reduced risk of lawsuits

Forklift operator certification also includes equipment inspection training and basic repairs, which can help prevent forklift malfunction and extend the truck's life span.

If OSHA discovers a forklift operator is not certified, it can impose large fines on the employer for each unlicensed forklift operator.

Related: Learn About Being a Forklift Operator

How to earn forklift operator certification

You can earn your forklift operator certification by taking an OSHA-approved course either in person or online. Many people choose to attend training in person through a vocational school or a local company. These courses include classroom work, a written test and hands-on training and evaluation.

Here are the steps to take if you are want to be a certified forklift operator:

1. Determine the type of forklift certification

You should receive training from your employer related to the truck you will be operating. There are seven classes of powered industrial trucks as defined by OSHA:

  • Class 1: Electric motor, sit-down rider, counterbalanced trucks (solid and pneumatic tires)

  • Class 2: Electric motor narrow aisle trucks (solid tires)

  • Class 3: Electric motor hand trucks or hand/rider trucks (solid tires)

  • Class 4: Internal combustion engine trucks (solid tires)

  • Class 5: Internal combustion engine trucks (pneumatic tires)

  • Class 6: Electric and internal combustion engine tractors (solid and pneumatic tires)

  • Class 7: Rough terrain forklift (pneumatic tires)

Related: 12 Different Types of Forklifts and When To Use Them

2. Sign up for a certification course

Find an OSHA-approved training program in your area. You can find these through your employer, forklift dealers and local community colleges or vocational schools. There are two phases to certification: classroom-style training and hands-on evaluation.

3. Take classes

The first part of forklift operator training is coursework that includes safety, OSHA rules, driving techniques and forklift maintenance. The training class must meet OSHA standards. These classes typically last a total of six to eight hours. They might include lectures, videos or written educational materials.

4. Pass the exam

After you have finished your classwork, you will take a written exam. Students typically need to score at least 75% to continue in their training.

5. Complete hands-on training

Once you pass the exam, you will need to demonstrate your forklift skills through training and practicing on forklift equipment. This might include forklift inspection, loading materials, lifting loads, navigating tight spaces and working on inclines.

The trainer will grade you based on your skills, safety and efficiency. If you already work for a company that uses forklifts, this training might occur at your workplace and your employer might be the one to evaluate your abilities.

Related: How To Become a Forklift Trainer

6. Receive a final evaluation

The instructor will evaluate your overall performance based on your driving rating and written exam score. If both are satisfactory, you can become certified. Note that only your employer or a qualified trainer will make the final determination to certify you to operate a forklift.

Once certified, you will receive a forklift license you can show employers when applying for jobs. This certificate will include your name, your training and evaluation date and the person who trained and evaluated you.

Forklift certification FAQs

Here are answers to frequently asked questions you might have about getting your forklift operator certification:

How much does forklift operator certification cost?

Training and certification costs vary depending on the program. In-person training typically costs between $150 and $200, while online courses can cost as little as $50. Since employers are required to have certified forklift operators, some companies might pay for your training.

How long does forklift operator certification take to complete?

You can usually complete both your classroom and hands-on training and certification within one to two days.

Are different certifications needed for different forklift types?

The written exam covers all types of equipment. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure operators are properly trained and capable of operating the equipment specific to each company.

Where can I get certified?

If you are currently employed and need to become forklift certified, it is your employer's responsibility to provide you with the appropriate training. Otherwise, you can find OSHA-certified programs at a local community college, vocational school or forklift dealer.

How long does my certification last?

OSHA requires forklift operators to be recertified every three years. You also will have to be re-evaluated if:

  • You are involved in an accident or near-miss incident.

  • You are observed operating the equipment unsafely.

  • You have a deficiency in your evaluation.

  • You are assigned to a different type of forklift

  • Your employee makes changes to the workplace that might affect safe operation.

Do I need a driver’s license?

No, it is not a requirement under federal OSHA laws to have a valid driver’s license to operate a forklift. A forklift operator certification is entirely separate from a driver’s license.

Do I need to pass a hearing or vision test?

While forklift operators do not need to take hearing and vision tests, it is the employer's responsibility to make sure the operator can drive the truck safely. If an employer knows a forklift operator is visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing and still allows them to operate the equipment, they can get fined by OSHA for having hazardous work conditions.

Do I need ongoing education or training?

You only need to get retraining or refresher training, which the employer typically provides, if:

  • You have been operating a forklift dangerously.

  • You have been involved in (or almost involved in) a forklift accident.

  • You need to operate a different type of forklift.

  • Your type of workplace has changed.

  • You receive a poor evaluation from your employer at the three-year mark.

In any of these circumstances, OSHA requires the employer to provide the retraining to operate legally.

Related: What Are the Different Types of Workplace Training?

Do forklift operator requirements vary by state?

While all forklift operators must be certified, different states have different OSHA safety and health programs with more or less stringent rules. Different states might also have different employer requirements and worker rights. To learn more, contact your local OSHA office.

How much do forklift operators earn?

Working as a forklift driver can be a highly fulfilling endeavor for prospective candidates who want to pursue a role in industries like manufacturing, construction or distribution. The average base salary for a forklift operator is $36,328 per year.

To work as a forklift operator, you must be 18 years of age or older, possess a high school diploma or equivalent and be certified as a forklift operator under OSHA requirements.

Related: How To Write a Resume as a Forklift Operator

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