Developing and implementing a successful forklift training program: Six tips

May 25, 2010
By: Kelly Langdon

Have all potential operators in your facility been properly trained in forklift safety? Follow the tips in this article to tailor your training for your specific operation. Your employees and bottom line will thank you.

forklift safety

OSHA requires it. It would save companies millions of dollars and prevent many injuries. Despite these facts, many companies across North America simply do not train their employees how to operate a lift truck safely.

Many small companies do not feel the guidelines apply to them, or think that the cost is so great that they cannot afford to comply with rigid training standards. On the other hand, many large companies purchase a sizable forklift training package that simply does not apply to their specific facility.

Here are six tips to help you develop and implement a successful forklift training program.

1. Determine the Type of Training Required. For example, there is little need to teach an elaborate course on sit-down rider-type lift trucks if your company uses only electric pallet jacks. Often companies force their employees to sit through countless hours of instruction on equipment they will never use. Because the company purchased a training "bundle," already bored trainees have the "bundle" taught to them.

This point is often overlooked but is very important: Be sure to pick the type of training that fits your specific need.

2. Translate or Don’t Translate? The American work force has become quite diverse. Like Buhler-Aeroglide, many companies employ Hispanic workers, some of whom speak limited English. My company made the decision to have all of our safety training translated into Spanish. This has become much easier during the last few years as many training programs now can be purchased in multiple languages.

However, I develop our company’s training material. Once I have it completed in English, I simply forward it to a translator, who provides the Spanish translation typed in under my English text. I use these dual presentations for both the English- and Spanish- speaking employees. I also purposely assemble the two groups together in training classes to enhance the discussions between the cultures.

Some employers are not as open to multiple translations for training materials. From our experience, any minor costs or hassles associated with translations are far outweighed by the positive benefits.

3. Customize the Training Within the Context of Your Facility. When it comes to safety training, I am strongly opposed to "one size should fit all." It has been my experience that this approach is both boring and ineffective.

I remember sitting through an overhead crane training class for employees at a small sheet metal fabricating facility. The video we were watching was recorded at a NASA facility that used monstrous cab-operated cranes to assemble space shuttle components. Initially the video was a welcome departure from what the students would be doing in their shop, but eventually it became boring as the trainees quickly realized the material in no way related to their facility.

I firmly believe that creating training material that reflects the specific environment employees will work in is a winning ticket. This can be done by adding photos of your facility to presentations or even filming video clips of workers within your facility. This has a psychological way of tying the training to something the employee can relate to. Always remember, context is king!

4. Include All Potential Operators in the Training. Always include all potential operators in your safety training. Nothing will kill morale faster than training 90 percent of the employees while letting a select few sit it out because of seniority or status. Doing so will undermine the very fabric of any training program.

As a safety trainer, I have always made sure that I was trained first and rigorously. I must lead by example to lead at all. To this end, I enrolled in a very aggressive Train the Trainer program and made sure I knew the material before I ever attempted to teach others.

I do not recommend having an operational VP type teach the forklift training. These positions are usually too far removed technically from the actual process to be credible with the students. In some small plants, company presidents conduct training lessons. This is great, but the president had better know his or her stuff, because employees see through a fraud. Once employees detect a fraud they become indifferent. They may smile and greet you in the morning, but when you go back into your office space they will do as they please.

Treating everyone the same is a great start. Stick by this simple rule: If you operate a forklift in our facility, you must be trained...100% of the time!

5. Cover the Required Material. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s Web site,, lists the forklift training requirements. Also on the site, the 1910 General Industry Standards lists many topics that should be covered during forklift training. Before administering a forklift training planm spend time on the Web site reviewing this information. PowerPoint presentations are available for downloading.

Make sure you cover all of the material that OSHA says you should cover, and make sure to cover anything unique about forklift operation at your facility. You are never limited to what OSHA dictates. The OSHA standard is a minimum and may not suffice in your specific facility.

Remember that when you teach something as a standard and document it, this standard becomes enforceable by OSHA in the event of an inspection.

6. Refresh the Training. OSHA says training for forklifts should be updated every three years. Training once and never mentioning the topic again does not suffice. Ironically, some of the worst injuries I personally have investigated over the years involved senior employees. These employees had been through training and knew the material. However, they needed refreshers.

As you are training, make sure the trainees understand what is being taught. Create an environment in which they can ask questions without feeling threatened or embarrassed. Usually, getting an older employee to tell the class about a near-miss injury he has observed will break the ice.

These tips don’t cover all of the components of a successful forklift program, but they are a good start. A good training curriculum should consider each of these points within the context of the specific facility.

Manufacturers must remember that safety impacts employees’ lives and the financial bottom line. Forklift accidents are predictable and avoidable. With the proper training, employers can prevent many accidents and deaths.

Kelly Langdon

Kelly Langdon

Safety Coordinator
Aeroglide Corp.
100 Aeroglide Drive
Cary, NC
Phone: 919-851-2000