Legal Responsibilities Related to Forklifts in the Workplace

Whether you purchase or rent forklifts, you do have specific health and safety requirements – regulations that have been established by OSHA and which will both enhance workplace safety and, as well, protect you from lawsuits and potential criminal charges. Any owner and manager of a business that operates forklifts must study OSHA 29 CFR, in order to understand his/her obligations to provide for the safest forklift operational environment possible. The following comprises a brief summary of your obligations but is not meant to substitute for thorough study of the relevant regulations.


  1. No one may operate a forklift under the age of 18.
  2. Anyone over the age of 18 must have training prior to operating a forklift. Such training is specified in 29 CFR 1910.178.
  3. Training for any forklift operator must be based upon the specific forklift uses in the business and must include formal sessions (classroom, videos, etc.) and practical sessions in which the employee demonstrates mastery of safe operation.
  4. Employees must certify the training and evaluate their forklift operators’ performance at least once every 3 years.
  5. OSHA has training materials for all types of operational environments (e.g., factory, warehouse, retail).
  6. The employer does not have to have an on-site trainer. There are numerous training consulting firms that will send trainers into a workplace and provide all of the training and certification that OSHA requires.

If you are adding forklift operation in your business, then of course you will want to ensure that any operator is trained and re-trained as necessary. Once that training has occurred, however, it is up to you to ensure that any operator is adhering to what has been learned and required. For example, all forklifts have restraints. These are to be used at all times, and such restraints must not be modified in any way. Because you cannot be on the floor observing the behavior of every forklift operation, and because supervisors may not observe every operation, you must take steps to protect yourself legally.

Critical Legal Protection

When you buy or rent a forklift, be certain that your supplier provides information on any hazards associated with specific forklifts and their operation. Be certain that your operators are made aware of these hazards.
Be certain that your supplier has provided information on the proper and safe use of any attachments and that your operators have been made aware of these important instructions.

Be certain that your supplier provides detailed information on service and maintenance of the forklifts you are acquiring.

When you employ a forklift operator, you need to have a document outlining all of the training and safety instructions given to this employee. This employee should then sign the document, stating that s/he has received this training and instruction and that s/he agrees to adhere to all of the procedures that are mandated in that training and instruction. You have thus “covered” yourself, should an employee have an accident that has been caused by an employee failure to adhere to the specifications of that signed document.

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