Health & Safety

Protect your business

By Mark Nicholson

June 2023

Why you should invest in forklift operator training

Inadequate training is all too often a contributory factor in forklift truck accidents. What are your responsibilities as an employer? And what more should you do to safeguard your people, property and business? Mark Nicholson offers the following summary. (7 min. read).

Fully train and develop your lift truck operators

Providing adequate lift truck operator training is a requirement under a variety of industrial safety laws. Employers have a fundamental legal duty to keep their workers safe. The legislation and its detailed demands vary between countries, but one point is clear…

You must never allow anyone to operate a lift truck unless they have completed and passed the necessary training courses. Not even on an occasional basis. Not even once. (Except, of course, as part of a training programme, under strict supervision.)

Forklift driver training

Fully train and develop your lift truck operators.

In the event of a serious accident, insurers and health and safety inspectors will check on the training received. If it’s inadequate, your insurance claim may be refused, and you may be heavily fined.

But don’t aim for the bare minimum when you train your forklift operators. Treat it as an investment. As well as avoiding fines and insurance problems, investing in training will reduce accidents, damage and associated downtime. Well-trained operators will also drive more productively and energy-efficiently.

Because of the variations in rules and standards, evidence of training in one country is not necessarily accepted in another. However, the skills of a job applicant presenting ‘foreign’ certification can be tested before an offer is confirmed. It should then be relatively simple for him or her to complete and pass the necessary courses for your country.


Well-trained operators will also drive more productively and energy-efficiently.

Despite differences in their details, similar principles apply to each country’s regulations and guidance on forklift training. One of these is that the training should be appropriate to the type of truck and its application. For example, a worker trained to drive a counterbalance forklift needs separate training to operate a reach truck. Similarly, a move from a small counterbalance to a considerably larger one requires specific training. If a job involves specialised attachments, their use must also be covered.


A worker trained to drive a counterbalance forklift needs separate training to operate a reach truck.

On completion of each course, operators must pass a test (or tests) to prove their competence. At this point they may be given a licence, permit or certificate as proof. In Britain, the authorities stress that there is no such thing as a forklift licence. Instead, they require documented proof of relevant training.

It’s good practice to give the operator an original or a certified copy of each training certificate to keep. Full information on all training must also be recorded in your company files for each employee. At the same time, you should maintain up-to-date risk assessments for lift truck operations. These, together with training records, will be vital to your defence if an accident occurs.


After training, you must continue to supervise and monitor your operators. Ideally, you should reassess them periodically to see if they need further training. Refresher training, at least every three to five years, is generally recommended. This helps operators to maintain good habits and build on their abilities.

You may want to refresh an operator’s training sooner if, for instance, he or she has:

  • Developed unsafe habits
  • Been involved in an accident or near miss
  • Not operated a truck for some time
  • Moved to a different work environment
  • Taken on new duties or working practices

Training can be delivered by a suitably trained and experienced manager in your company or by an external provider. You have a responsibility to check that the course is appropriate and that the trainers meet all necessary standards.

Insure against forklift-related accidents

Even with well-trained operators and rigorous safety strategies, there is still a chance of accidents happening. You should protect your business by ensuring you have sufficient insurance to cover the resulting expenses.

A general insurance policy is essential to cover you against injuries to employees, and others, resulting from your business activities. This may also pay for damage to other people’s property. In the worst case, if a serious accident occurs, the right insurance will help pay for your defence in court – and for any damages awarded.

Check whether your existing insurance applies to costs arising from forklift accidents, and whether the amount insured is sufficient. Bear in mind how much damage and injury a heavy, powerful forklift can cause. If you need better cover, consider an add-on to your policy or a take out a specialised forklift insurance policy.

Consider, also, the potential for expensive damage to your own facilities and property – including the truck itself. Think about whether to insure your forklift against theft and vandalism too. The issues above may seem most relevant if you own or lease the forklift, but insuring hired equipment is a good idea too.

Finally, remember that an insurance claim may be rejected if the forklift operator involved in an accident is found to be inadequately trained.

Take forklift accident risks seriously

Across Europe, forklift trucks are believed to be involved each year in:

  • Around 83,000 accidents
  • Around 5,200 injuries causing permanent disability
  • More than 100 deaths

For further evidence of how dangerous lift trucks can be, it’s worth looking further afield. Forklift-specific accident figures for the United States are readily available online. OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) estimates that forklift accidents annually result in:

  • Around 62,000 non-serious injuries
  • Around 35,000 serious injuries
  • Around 85 deaths

Note that the victims in some of these categories could be pedestrians rather than lift truck drivers. (An analysis in Britain found that 43% of lift truck incidents involved impacts on someone other than the driver).

Importantly, OSHA believes that around 70% of forklift accidents in the US could be prevented if companies implemented more stringent training policies.