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Powered Industrial Trucks Safety

Yellow forklift inside building
Photo: Oregon OSHA.

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Program Summary

Information regarding the safe use of powered industrial trucks (i.e. forklifts and pallet jacks) is covered in this program.

This program applies to all personnel who operate forklifts and motorized pallet jacks (i.e. powered industrial trucks - PIT) for work-related purposes.

Virginia Tech requires that all powered industrial trucks (PIT) operators be trained and certified. This includes online information on the safe use of the PIT and an operator evaluation (observation). 

Powered Industrial Truck Safety Online Program


The university requires training and certification in powered industrial truck operation (PIT) to assure that operators have a basic understanding of related hazards and safe operation of the specific equipment used by the department.


Each department that owns or uses PITs must ensure that all operators are authorized by the department to use such equipment, and are trained and certified by Environmental Health & Safety.


This program applies to all motorized material handling equipment being operated by Virginia Tech personnel regardless of location and includes:

  • Sit down powered industrial trucks
  • Stand up powered industrial trucks
  • Low-lift pallet jacks (walk-behind)
  • High-lift pallet jacks (walk-behind)
  • High-lift order pickers
  • High-lift reach riders
  • Sit down rider tractors with forks
  • Bobcats with forks
  • Rough-terrain extended-reach powered industrial trucks
  • Rough-terrain straight-mast powered industrial trucks

Environmental Health & Safety

EHS is responsible for developing, implementing, and administering the Powered Industrial Truck Safety Program. This involves:

  • Training all operators in the associated hazards and general safe work practices.
  • Maintaining centralized records of training and certification records.
  • Providing technical assistance to university personnel.
  • Evaluating the overall effectiveness of the program on a periodic basis.


Departments are expected to maintain a safe and healthy living, learning, and working environment for faculty, staff, students, and visitors to our campus. Departments should designate responsible persons to coordinate the requirements of this program with employees and ensure that operators are trained and certified by Environmental Health & Safety.


Employees are expected to attend Environmental Health & Safety Powered Industrial Truck Training and operate the equipment in a safe and responsible manner.


Contractors must comply with all local, state, and federal safety requirements, and assure that all of their employees performing work on Virginia Tech properties have been suitably trained. Contractors must also comply with the requirements outlined in Virginia Tech's Contractor Safety Program

Operator training and certification 

The operator must complete the following prior to being authorized to operate a powered industrial truck (PIT) at Virginia Tech. Note: The supervisor, operator, and Environmental Health & Safety trainer will be required to sign off on the certification form that these areas have been addressed prior to observing and finalizing operator training and certification.

  • The operator must review and understand pertinent information in the operator's manual as specified by the manufacturer prior to attempting to operate the lift.
    • Safe and proper use 
    • Pre-use inspection 
    • Limitations of the equipment (e.g. maximum capacity) 
  • Operators must receive training on the make and model of PIT to be used from their supervisor or designee, including how to properly inspect and operate the PIT under supervision.
    • Reporting deficiencies if the PIT does not pass inspection 
    • Required fall protection systems associated with the PIT, if applicable
    • Supervised operation to develop proficiency 
  • Operators must attend general PIT training from Environmental Health & Safety, and be observed properly and safely operating the PIT before an operator's card is issued.
    • How forklifts operate differently from a car. 
    • The types of tires on forklifts. 
    • Forklift attachments and requirements, such as additional counter balances, personnel lift cages, and fork extenders. 
    • Basic engineering principles, such as the center of gravity, the stability triangle, and stability while lifting or moving. 
    • Safe operating principles, such as travel and speed, pedestrian right-of-way, parking, and the importance of seatbelts in a rollover. 
    • Daily inspection and maintenance. 
    • Other safety considerations, such as fire extinguishers, alarms, lights, and traffic signals.

Certification will be given for each type of PIT that the operator will be using, such as:

  • Sit down forklifts
  • Stand up forklifts
  • Low-lift pallet jacks (walk-behind)
  • High-lift pallet jacks (walk-behind)
  • High-lift order pickers
  • High-lift reach riders
  • Sit down rider tractors with forks
  • Bobcats with forks
  • Rough-terrain extended-reach forklifts
  • Rough-terrain straight-mast forklifts

Operator evaluation will include observation from the Environmental Health & Safety trainer or a designated departmental representative. Operators should be able to successfully demonstrate the proper lifting, traveling, and placement of a load, as well as express basic knowledge about the forklift's controls and features.

Certification is valid for 3 years.

Where personal fall arrest systems are required to be used (i.e. high-lift order pickers) in conjunction with the lift, training will involve the proper donning, fit, and use of the full-body harness, as well as the location of the approved anchor point on the lift. 

Additional training by Environmental Health & Safety may be required under the following conditions:

  • The forklift is operated unsafely.
  • The operator is involved in an accident or near-miss involving a forklift.
  • The operator evaluation indicates a need for additional training and/or practice.
  • A different type of forklift is to be used.

Maximum capacity

Operators must be familiar with the lifting capacity of their PIT. It should be indicated on the PIT itself, and may be expressed as maximum lifting capacity based on load centers of 24", 36", or 48". The maximum capacity should never be exceeded. If a larger capacity lift is necessary, departments should make arrangements to have one available.


Seatbelts are designed to keep the operator in a "safe zone" in the event of a tip-over. If the forklift came with a seatbelt installed, it must be used. If the forklift does not have a seatbelt installed, the manufacturer should be contacted for a retrofit kit.

Daily inspection

PIT's should be inspected daily for general damage and defects which may affect the integrity or operation of the equipment. Report any defect to your supervisor and do not use the PIT until the proper repair has been completed. Repairs should be made by qualified technicians only. Inspect for:

  • Damaged, loose, or missing parts;
  • Adequate tire inflation;
  • Check the fuel level or charge of the battery;
  • Air, hydraulic, or fuel system leaks;
  • Loose hoses or wires;
  • Ensure the operating controls are working properly;
  • Ensure all safety features, such as horns and lights are working properly;
  • Inspect the fork "elbows" for weld cracks; and
  • Check the battery fluid, hydraulic reservoir, and coolant levels, if applicable.

Operator's manual

The operator's manual for the PIT should be available to operators at a central location or on the lift itself. Operators should take the time to review operating instructions and safety guidelines. Servicing and maintenance should be in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations.


In general, forklifts are not designed to travel at fast speeds. Walking pace or about five miles per hour is a good rule of thumb. The load should be kept as low to the ground as possible - about 6 inches off of the floor in areas with smooth, hard floors. More height is necessary when traveling in outdoor areas, such as construction sites, where the terrain is uneven. Operators should always look in the direction of travel and use "spotters" where visibility is poor due to the size of the load. Sound the horn at blind corners to warn on-coming traffic to proceed cautiously. Avoid potholes, bumps, and wet areas whenever possible, or proceed with extreme caution.

Fueling/battery charging

Fueling or battery charging of the lift should be conducted according to the manufacturer's recommendations. In general, no sparks or open flames in the area, and adequate ventilation must be available.

Center of gravity: The point on an object at which all of the object's weight is concentrated. For symmetrical loads, the center of gravity is at the middle of the load.

Dynamic stability: The resistance of the PIT to overturn while traveling or moving.

Fulcrum: The PIT's axis of rotation when it tips over.

Lateral stability: The resistance of the PIT to overturn sideways.

Load center: The distance from the back of the forks to the center of the load being lifted.

Longitudinal stability: The resistance of the PIT to overturn forward or backward.

Powered industrial truck: Any mobile, power-propelled truck used to carry, push, pull, lift, stack, or tier materials. Examples include:

  • Sit down powered industrial trucks
  • Stand up powered industrial trucks
  • Low-lift pallet jacks (walk-behind)
  • High-lift pallet jacks (walk-behind)
  • High-lift order pickers
  • High-lift reach riders
  • Sit down rider tractors with forks
  • Bobcats with forks
  • Rough-terrain extended-reach powered industrial trucks
  • Rough-terrain straight-mast powered industrial trucks

Spotter: A person who aids the operator with visibility issues.

Stability triangle: The imaginary triangle between the PIT's two front tires and the pivot pin on the rear axle. The principle is that the PIT will not tip over as long as the vehicle's center of gravity remains inside of this triangle.

Track: The distance between wheels on the same axle.

Wheelbase: The distance between wheels on different axles.

Frequently Asked Questions

No. An approved personnel cage must be used according to manufacturer recommendations, or other appropriate means, such as an aerial lift or ladder, be used.


Yes. You must be at least 18 years of age in order to operate a forklift (i.e. powered industrial truck) and similar equipment in nonagricultural settings. This requirement is from the Department of Labor's Fair Labor Standards Act, Hazardous Order No. 7. In agricultural settings, you must be at least 16 years of age in order to operate a forklift or similar equipment.

Is training mandatory? If so, when? Yes. Persons who use forklifts, powered pallet jacks, order pickers, and similar equipment must be trained and certified prior to using this equipment. A train-the-trainer program is also available for departments that wish to certify their own users.

Class length: 1 hour.

Available online: Yes (information portion)  plus in-person observation/evaluation.

When is refresher training required? Every 3 years.

Please see the online class schedule for more information.

If the forklift originally had a seatbelt that has been subsequently removed or is defective, the department is responsible for getting it replaced or repaired. If the forklift is so old that it did not have a seatbelt installed in the first place, you should talk with the manufacturer to see if there are retrofit kits available.

VDOT traffic flaggers and powered industrial truck (i.e. forklift) operators must be at least 18 years of age. Other job duties which are hazardous in nature would also be restricted to those at least 18 years of age. Such duties should be reviewed by the supervisor and/or Environmental Health & Safety for clarification, if necessary. Contact 540-231-2341 for assistance.

The seatbelt is designed to keep you in the "safe zone" of the forklift in the event of tip over. It cannot protect you if it is not used.


Contact Information

Robin McCall-Miller, Occupational Safety Program Manager

Phone: 540-231-2341