How to Become a Forklift Driver

It doesn’t take long – and it’s not expensive – to get forklift certification. In just a few hours – that’s right, hours! – you can complete a forklift certification course. Once you’ve done that, the door is open to a wide variety of jobs.

You can expect to earn from $16 to $18.50 hourly to start, with the opportunity to earn more depending on what type of forklift certification course you’ve completed. All courses must be OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) approved. OSHA forklift certification is available for all types of forklifts.

Understanding the Role of a Forklift Operator

A forklift is also called a powered industrial truck. The forklifts may be electric or run by an internal combustion engine.

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The forklift operator moves items from one location to another. Items may be moved within an industrial area, such as a warehouse, or to/from a warehouse to a truck or airplane.

Forklifts are also a key tool for maintaining heavy equipment, where they’re needed as “jacks” or to move parts. These forklifts, often used on construction, mining or recycling operations, are built for outdoor terrain.

The Duties and Responsibilities of a Forklift Operator

how to become a forklift driver

Forklift drivers are vital in numerous industries where heavy loads must be moved efficiently and safely. Their responsibilities include not only driving and maneuvering the vehicle but also ensuring that the load is secure, the machine is in good condition, and that all safety protocols are strictly adhered to. A comprehensive list of duties and responsibilities of a forklift operator may include the following:

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  • Operating the forklift involves driving the forklift to transport heavy items from one location to another. Operating the forklift efficiently without causing any damage or accidents requires skill and precision.
  • Safety checks and measures: Before operating the forklift, the driver is responsible for carrying out safety checks to ensure that the vehicle is in good condition and safe to use. This includes checking the brakes, steering, controls, warning devices, mast, tires and other parts of the forklift.
  • Load handling: The operator must ensure that each load is stable, secure, and positioned correctly on the forklift. Overloading or incorrect positioning can cause the vehicle to become unbalanced, posing a significant safety risk.
  • Maintenance: Basic maintenance tasks, such as oil checks, refueling, or recharging the forklift, are typically the operator’s responsibility. Any issues that the driver cannot fix must be reported to a maintenance team or supervisor.
  • Identifying and reporting hazards: The operator must be aware of their surroundings at all times and be able to identify any potential hazards, such as spills or obstructions in the driving path. Any hazardous conditions should be reported immediately to management.
  • Following instructions: Forklift operators must follow all given instructions accurately, which may involve stacking goods in specific locations, loading or unloading trucks, or transporting materials to designated areas.
  • Record keeping: Accurate records of all operations must be kept by the forklift driver. This can include logs of all goods moved, details of any incidents or accidents, and maintenance checks.
  • Adherence to protocols: The operator should strictly adhere to all safety protocols and regulations set by the company and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This includes wearing appropriate safety gear and following guidelines for safe forklift operation.
  • Training and skills development: Ongoing training is often a requirement for forklift drivers to ensure that their skills are up-to-date and they are aware of any changes in safety protocols.

Forklift drivers play a key role in maintaining the smooth operation of warehouses, construction sites, and other industrial settings. By fulfilling their duties and responsibilities, they contribute to the overall safety and efficiency of their workplaces.

Industries Where Forklift Operators are In Demand

how to become a forklift driver

Forklift drivers are required in various industries where heavy goods need to be moved or stored. Their role is crucial for efficient operations in these sectors. Below are some industries that frequently utilize forklift operators:

  • Warehousing and Distribution: Warehouses are the primary sector that employs forklift operators. They are needed for receiving, storing, and distributing goods. This can include everything from electronics to food items, and these operators are responsible for the efficient and safe movement of these items within the warehouse.
  • Construction: In construction, forklifts are used for lifting and moving heavy materials like steel bars, concrete blocks, and large equipment. Forklift operators are, therefore, essential for moving materials on-site and assisting with various construction tasks.
  • Recycling: In recycling facilities, forklift operators are needed to move large bales of recycled materials, load materials onto processing equipment, and unload materials from trucks.
  • Mining: In both open pit and underground mines, forklift operators help move mined ores and other materials. They are essential for transporting materials to processing sites and loading trucks with mined goods.
  • Airport Operations: Forklift drivers are needed for handling baggage and cargo in airports. They load and unload cargo from aircraft and move baggage to and from the aircraft.
  • Disaster Relief: In disaster-stricken areas, forklift operators can be crucial for moving and distributing relief materials like food, water, medical supplies, and shelter. They may also assist in the removal of debris.
  • Ports and Docks: Ports and docks often utilize forklift operators to load and unload ships, move containers, and arrange goods for storage or further transportation.
  • Manufacturing: In manufacturing plants, forklift operators can be involved in moving raw materials, stacking goods, and transporting finished products within the plant.
  • Retail: Large retail stores, especially those selling large items like furniture or appliances, use forklift operators to move, store, and load goods onto customers’ vehicles.
  • Agriculture: In the agricultural sector, forklift drivers might be used to move and stack produce pallets, load goods onto trucks for transport, and unload supplies.

These are just some examples. Any industry that requires the movement of heavy goods or materials will likely require using forklifts and their operators.

Prerequisites to Becoming a Forklift Driver

how to become a forklift driver

Age and Physical Requirements

To get a forklift certification card, you must be at least 18 and hold a high school diploma.

You should have good hand-eye coordination, visual ability, and communication skills.

Educational Requirements

OSHA requires a three-part course to obtain a forklift license. There’s formal learning, which can be completed with in-person or online courses. Next, you need hands-on experience with the practical application of the forklift operation. To complete the requirements, your skills need to be tested by an OSHA-certified evaluator.

The Importance of Forklift Safety Training

how to become a forklift driver

Safety is a focus of the OSHA-certified training.

An operator is lifting items above the ground, sometimes several tiers high as in a warehouse setting. No matter where a forklift is being operated and what type of forklift it is, safe operations are the priority.

How to Become a Forklift Driver: A Step-by-Step Process

Choosing the Right Forklift Certification Training Program

how to become a forklift driver

There are many types of forklifts. Some are for light loads; some are for heavy loads. Some are designed for indoor use; some are designed to be used outside. On some, the operator is seated; on others, the operator remains standing.

Here is a sampling of types: high lift, straddle (to stack containers), and cantilever lifts (for long freight such as pipes). The most commonly used forklift is one designed for warehouse application, moving palletized materials.

Choose the program that matches your desired job.

Finding an OSHA-Approved Training Program

how to become a forklift driver

It’s easy. Just go to the OSHA website and search for forklift certification courses.

Undertaking a Forklift Training Course

how to become a forklift driver

Your first step is to complete an online or in-person training course.

Acquiring Hands-on Experience

how to become a forklift driver

For the next part of the certification process, you must complete hands-on experience. Often companies looking to hire will offer this training. You can also check forklift training companies such as A-1 Forklift, Florida Training Academy, Raymond Corporation, Forklift Academy and United Rentals (specializes in rough terrain forklift certification).

Applying for the Forklift Operator Certification

how to become a forklift driver

Once you’ve completed the first two steps of forklift training, your skills need to be evaluated by a person who is a certified OSHA forklift certification evaluator.

The total costs for forklift operator certification are typically from $80 to $300, depending on the type of equipment you plan to use.

Steps for Becoming a Forklift OperatorDescription
Choosing the Right Forklift Certification Training ProgramDepending on your desired job, you'll need to select a program that matches the type of forklift you'll be using. This can range from highlift, straddle lifts, cantilever lifts, to the most commonly used warehouse forklifts.
Finding an OSHA Approved Training ProgramYou can easily find OSHA approved forklift certification courses on the OSHA website.
Undertaking a Forklift Training CourseThe first step towards certification is completing an online or in-person training course. This will provide you with the theoretical knowledge necessary to operate a forklift.
Acquiring Hands-on ExperienceThe next part of the certification process is gaining hands-on experience. You can get this training from companies looking to hire, or from specific forklift training companies such as A-1 Forklift, Florida Training Academy, Raymond Corporation, Forklift Academy, and United Rentals.
Applying for the Forklift Operator CertificationAfter you've completed your training, your skills need to be evaluated by a certified OSHA forklift certification evaluator. The total costs for forklift operator certification typically range from $80 to $300, depending on the type of equipment you plan to use.

What to Expect from Forklift Certification Exams

Written Test

You can take the written test on line or in person. You’ll need a 75% or higher score to pass. Online forklift certification courses must be followed by hands-on experience and evaluation.

Practical Test

For the practical tests, your skills will be evaluated. According to OSHA guidelines, “the evaluation must be conducted by persons who have the knowledge, training and experience to evaluation the operator’s competence.”

Career Progression Opportunities for Certified Forklift Operators

how to become a forklift driver

Once you’ve gotten one type of forklift certification, you’ll need to recertify every three years. For that, you’ll only need to do the online forklift certification portion.

Or you may want to change the type of forklift you operate.

Advanced Certifications and Specializations in Forklift Driving

Specializations include MEWP (mobile elevating work platform) used with aerial booms and scissors lift machines. In addition to warehouse applications, forklift operators are also in demand by trucking companies (for dock work) and utility (electrical and wind power) companies.

Potential Career Paths for Experienced Forklift Operators

One of the biggest needs in the industry is for OSHA-certified evaluators. Companies also need forklift safety inspectors, who perform inspections and preventative maintenance. You can also operate a forklift for a logistics business, construction company, or equipment provider.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Certified Forklift Operator

How long does it take to get a forklift license?

The process can be completed in less than 4 hours.

How much does a certified forklift driver make?

The driver can make $16 to $18.50 hourly, with a range of $26,000 to $41,000 annually. The numbers increase depending on the type of forklift being used.

Is forklift operator training expensive?

No. The cost of training ranges from $80 to $300 for a complete, three-part course.

How often does a forklift certification card need to be renewed?

The forklift certification card needs to be renewed every three years.

What are the job prospects for a certified forklift operator?

Job prospects are good. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, forklift operator jobs are expected to grow by 7% annually through 2031. You may also look into how to become a truck driver or how to become a pilot car driver to increase job prospects even more, since these positions are also in demand in similar industries.

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Lisa Price Lisa Price is a freelance writer living in Barnesville, Pennsylvania. She has a B.A. in English with a minor in journalism from Shippensburg State College (Pennsylvania). She has worked as a trucking company dock supervisor, newspaper circulation district manager, radio station commercial writer, assistant manager of a veterinary pharmaceutical warehouse and newspaper reporter.

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