Forklift Certification vs. License: Which Do You Need to Drive a Forklift?

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Wondering about forklift certification vs. license? 

These terms are often used interchangeably. But there’s some nuance.

Whether you’re an aspiring forklift operator. Or a business aiming to ensure safe and compliant operations. It’s essential to grasp the subtle difference between these terms.

Thankfully, you’re in the right place.

If you’re eager to learn more, continue scrolling!

Forklift Certification vs. License: What’s the Difference?

Let’s clarify. Getting authorization to operate a forklift differs from getting your driver’s license to drive a car. In fact, you don’t need a forklift license to drive a forklift at all. That’s because there’s no such thing as a forklift license!

So, you won’t have to go to the DMV to take a forklift driving test. No government inspector will come to assess you at work and clear you to operate. You aren’t even required to keep an I.D. card with you.

But there is forklift certification. Per the government, this is your employer’s pledge that an operator has received adequate training and can safely operate a forklift. Employers credential operators via a certification document. The government says the document must include the operator’s name, the trainer’s name, the training date, and when they evaluated the operator.

Understanding the Rules of Forklift Training and Certification

OSHA stands for the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. It's a government agency tasked with workplace safety. That includes setting the rules for forklift certification vs. licenses.

You’ll need to understand forklift rules if you’re new to forklifts – either as an aspiring operator or a business in charge of operators. Here’s a basic overview:

OSHA’s Role in Forklift Safety

OSHA stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. A government body under the U.S. Department of Labor looks after workplace safety. This includes making sure forklifts are used safely in the workplace. Consider OSHA the “supreme” authority for forklift safety and operational rules in the United States.

OSHA’s Forklift Laws for Different Workplaces

OSHA has specific rules for using forklifts in different places. For example, ports, construction sites, and warehouses. But the central regulation is standard 1910.178 – Powered Industrial Trucks. It applies to all forklifts, no matter where they’re used.

What Forklift Training Involves

OSHA says employers must ensure anyone driving a forklift knows what they’re doing. This means giving them the proper training for the actual work they’ll be doing. OSHA also decides what this training should include. They say it must consist of classroom training and practice with forklifts. Training can include slideshow presentations, videos, activities, and lectures. Whatever the format, the course must cover over 20 topics on truck and workplace topics OSHA specifies. For example, subjects like:

Operator trainees also learn about safety in the workplace. That includes being safe around pedestrians, navigating ramps, and the dangers of operating in confined spaces.

Practicing and Assessment

After classroom training, operators must practice using a real forklift. This is typically done at the workplace since each workplace is different. Then, the employer must check how well they do in the actual work setting and conditions. If the employer is satisfied, they can certify the operator. OSHA says that the certification must include a few details. That consists of the trainee and trainer names, training dates, and the final evaluation date.

Keeping Skills Fresh

OSHA says forklift drivers must update their training every 3 years. They will have to do it even sooner under a few circumstances. For instance, if they’ve had an accident or a near-miss. Or if something changes at work that could affect forklift safety.

Avoiding Repeat Training

You may find all the forklift training requirements redundant if you’re an employer. Thankfully, OSHA allows some exceptions in standard 1910.178(l)(5) to avoid making operators undergo duplicate training. It depends on if the driver has already learned what they need for their current job. If so, they might not need to do all the training again. But, it’s ultimately up to the employers to make the call.

How to Get Forklift Certification Training

If you want to become a certified forklift driver, you’ll need training. Here’s how:

In-House Forklift Training Programs

Many employers have their own programs to train and certify their forklift operators. For instance, Some big warehouses prepare operators in-house to save on costs and time. The advantage of in-house training is that you (the operator) don’t have to pay. Since your employer puts on the course, they cover the costs.

Training on Your Own

If you want to become a forklift operator but still need to get a job, you can take training by yourself. This helps you learn about forklifts and shows future employers you’re ready to work. It can also help you stand out among others who haven’t prepared as much.

Many organizations offer forklift training. For example, you can take online forklift certification training. You can also look at in-person training. Your local community college or equipment dealership are two good sources to consider. Some staffing agencies and job centers provide forklift training, as well.

Remember, your employer has to make sure your training is good enough. This is what OSHA requires. So, ensure that whatever course you choose satisfies OSHA’s guidelines. This will improve the chances that your employer will accept it.

OSHA’s Role and Resources

It’s crucial to note that OSHA itself does not provide forklift training. They also do not approve or endorse forklift operator training courses. However, they offer lots of valuable forklift training information for free. Their online eTool is one example. It covers many vital topics related to powered industrial trucks, like power sources, pre-operation inspections, and load handling.

Forklift Certification FAQs

Is a forklift certification the same as a forklift license?

Forklift certification and license are often mixed up. But the two aren’t the same. A forklift license implies a government document you need before you can drive a forklift. But there’s no such thing. Forklift certification, on the other hand, does exist. It means an employer assures an operator has been trained and knows how to safely use a forklift. It exists as a document that must include details like names and dates of training.

Do I have to have a driver’s license to drive a forklift?

You don’t need a driver’s license to drive a forklift. A driver’s license and a forklift certification are different things. One does not qualify you to operate the other. All forklift operators must undergo training before using a forklift truck. But this training is different from motor vehicle training. Not having a driver’s license will not prevent you from being a certified forklift operator, either.

What happens if you operate a forklift without certification?

Operating a forklift without certification can result in many adverse outcomes. For example, it can endanger your life, limbs, and those around you. It can result in product, equipment, and infrastructure damage. It can also result in fines of over $15,000. OSHA mandates that all employers certify forklift operators before permitting them to operate. Individuals should never use a forklift without proper training, certification, and authorization from their employer. 

Are forklift drivers and forklift operators the same?

There’s no difference between a forklift driver and a forklift operator. These terms mean the same thing. Both refer to a person who uses forklifts. This involves driving the forklift, constructing loads, and operating the hydraulic lifting mechanism.

What is a professional title for a forklift driver?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calls forklift operators “material moving machine operators.” This is a formal way to say forklift driver or operator.

Is a forklift job stressful?

A forklift job can be stressful, depending on your work environment and employer. Warehouses, for example, tend to be busy. This can cause stress due to high expectations in pick quotas and safety. Some forklift operators find it demanding to concentrate for extended periods. This is necessary to avoid accidents and damage. But it can be tiring, especially for an 8-hour or longer shift.

What’s the best forklift license to get first?

If you’re new to forklifts, start with certifications for the types used in warehouses, like classes 1 to 4. These are great for entry-level jobs. Moreover, warehouses employ the most forklift operators. So, you’re more likely to get a job with warehouse forklift certification.

What are the 3 requirements of forklift training?

OSHA says that forklift operator training must consist of 3 parts. These are: 1) Classroom instruction, 2) Hands-on training, and 3) Workplace evaluation. Employers must ensure operators receive comprehensive training. This is so that workplaces remain safe for all workers.

Should I put forklift certification on my resume?

You should definitely include your forklift certification on your resume. OSHA requires employers to certify forklift operators. Having your certification listed demonstrates your commitment to safety and shows initiative. Be sure to provide proof, such as your certificate of completion, for employers to assess.

How much does a forklift job pay in the USA?

Forklift operators in the USA earned an average of $41,230 annually in 2022. That translates to about $20 per hour. This data comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Is a forklift operator an in-demand job in the USA?

Forklift operators are in “average” demand. That’s according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau predicts a 4% growth in employment for forklift operators by 2023. That equates to an estimated 29,900 jobs added between 2022 and 2032.

How do I get my forklift certification in the USA?

In the USA, your employer must certify you. Many companies provide all the training you need in-house upon hire. Others may send you to an outside group for training. Or, you can pursue training on your own. For instance, through online programs, technical colleges, or dealerships. Be advised that you can only operate a forklift in the workplace once your employer says you can.

What Next?

You came seeking clarity on forklift certification vs. license.

You’ve learned that forklift licenses aren’t a thing. You’ve also learned the rules governing forklift training and certification. And you’ve got instructions for how to get forklift certified.

But there are always more forklift topics to explore.

For the latest insights and updates, check out our latest blog post.

See you there!

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