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The Basics of Forklift and Heavy Equipment Training

By Todd Wells
Published: September 30, 2019 | Last updated: October 6, 2019 01:32:08
Key Takeaways

Training on a variety of heavy equipment can improve your job prospects in industries like construction and mining.

Caption: Heavy machinery Source: EvgenyMiroschichenko / iStock

Fundamental training that meets OSHA requirements, industry standards, regulations and policies for forklifts and heavy equipment will provide you with a basic knowledge of how to safely operate equipment, such as:

  • Forklifts
  • Areal lifts
  • Front end loaders
  • Pedestal cranes
  • RT (rough terrain) cranes
  • Skid steers
  • Telehandlers
  • Bucket trucks
  • Articulated boom trucks
  • Backhoes, loaders, dump trucks, and excavators

Training is mandatory to operate this heavy machinery. Equipment and conditions differ across worksites, so employers are still required to provide workers with practical training at the work site.

(Learn the Top 10 Safety Tips for Heavy Equipment Operators.)


OSHA requires safety training relevant to the equipment being used, the type of work being completed, and the site where the work is being conducted. Employers must assess the specific hazards associated with the job at the site where the work is being performed.

HCTI Hazards

One of the biggest hazards associated with forklift and heavy equipment is HCTI (human construction traffic interface). Preventing HCTI incidents means keeping pedestrians and heavy equipment from each other and keeping equipment apart from other equipment.

Contact and collision between heavy machinery and people is a leading cause of death and injury. People are killed each year from crashes, crushing, and being run over or struck by equipment.

Control methods used to manage the interface between people and equipment include:

  • Barriers
  • Walkways and crossings
  • Separate exits and entrances
  • Minimizing vehicle movements
  • Ensuring workers are competent,
  • Visibility, signs, and instructions
  • Job hazard analysis
  • Training

(Learn more in Forklift Safety for Pedestrians: 4 Tips for Improving Your Visibility.)

Training Programs

HCTI hazards should be a part of any forklift or heavy equipment training you take and always be at the forefront of your mind if you are an operator. On construction sites, equipment and people interact often and it's one of the first things I look for when I'm in the field or conducting a safety audit or inspection.

Companies often go to great expense to provide dedicated heavy equipment trainers, dedicated computer-based training programs, computerized classrooms, practical training, and competency checks for each individual type of equipment used by an operator. Before anyone can operate a piece of equipment, training must be complete and they must demonstrate competency.

(Learn the 6 Ways a Permanent, In-House Safety Trainer Can Benefit Your Organization.)

In many roles, such as for an operator for a site services job at a plant or a mine, operators may have to be trained on numerous different pieces of equipment. You may be operating an excavator, skid steer, RT crane, bulldozer, or any other piece of equipment, and often several in a single day. Someone who is trained on several individual pieces of equipment will be much more valuable to an employer than someone trained on just one or two. That kind of versatility is one of the things employers often look for when selecting job candidates.


Online Training Courses

Many years ago, when things were very different, I was taught to use a forklift on a job site. A co-worker showed me where the controls were and what they did. I hopped in and practiced using the controls for a few minutes, put it into drive, and then went to work.

That ten minutes was all the training I got as a forklift operator.

Looking back now, I see that it's completely inadequate and I wish I had the kind of cost-effective training opportunities that are available now.

(See A Primer on Forklift Hand Signals for related reading.)

These days, you can take OSHA-compliant online training classes for forklifts and heavy equipment that satisfy the classroom requirements for operator safety training. You will still need to complete practical training at the site where you will operate the equipment and ensure that all other regulatory requirements are met.

Each online course you take should cover:

  • The safe operation of the equipment
  • Engineering principles
  • Inspections prior to use
  • Maintenance requirements
  • Hazards with operating the equipment and how to control them
  • Loads and rated capacities (if required)
  • Stability (if required)
  • Brakes and controls
  • Safety features of the equipment

Online training should also include a final exam. Upon completion, you should be able to print off your certificate and often a checklist that can be used by an employer to administer the required practical assessment. Check and verify what the requirements are for the equipment you will be using before booking training.


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Written by Todd Wells

Profile Picture of Todd Wells

Todd Wells is a safety professional who works to turn complex projects into successes, implementing effective safety initiatives and consistently achieving measurable positive results on his projects.

Todd is currently a Surface Safety Coordinator with Hatch and understands that world-class safety is about establishing a culture that manages risks and workplace behaviors that cost money.

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