What Training Do You Need To Operate A Forklift Truck: Essential Certifications and Skills

Operating a forklift truck requires a specific set of skills and knowledge to ensure safety and efficiency in various work environments. Proper training goes beyond simply knowing how to manoeuvre the vehicle; it also includes understanding the principles of balance, weight distribution, and the mechanics of the forklift itself. Whether you are a new operator or a seasoned professional, it’s vital to undergo comprehensive training that adheres to recognised safety standards and regulations.

Securing the right training is a foundational step in becoming a certified forklift operator. It typically involves a combination of classroom learning and practical, hands-on experience under the guidance of qualified instructors. Courses cover a variety of topics, including pre-operational checks, safe loading and unloading techniques, and the correct procedures for navigating with loads. Additionally, you will learn about the legal responsibilities and health and safety concerns associated with forklift operation.

We spoke to Ollie Dunstall, the Operations Director at Heads of the Valleys Training, about the importance of forklift training in the workplace.

“Anyone who is operating any form of forklift truck or machinery handling equipment in the workplace must be formally trained and deemed competent.

Forklift trucks are dangerous and powerful machines that can cause serious injury if not operated correctly. On average, a quarter of all workplace transport accidents involve a forklift truck.

We deliver forklift training to hundreds of operators each month, both at our training centre and in-house as customer premises. We offer flexible and bespoke solutions to ensure every operator is adequately trained in line with their day to day forklift operations.

The most popular forklift truck is the Counterbalance, but we are seeing a huge increase in demand for Reach, Bendi and Pallet Stacker lift truck training.”

The investment in quality forklift training is not only a regulatory requirement; it also plays a critical role in minimising the risk of accidents and injuries in the workplace. A well-trained forklift operator is an asset to any business, contributing to the overall productivity and safety culture within the organisation. Upon completion of the training, you will be evaluated through theoretical and practical assessments to ensure you have mastered the necessary skills to operate a forklift truck competently.

Forklift Types and Applications

Different types of forklift trucks are suited to various tasks within warehouses, construction sites, and other industrial environments. Understanding each type’s specific capabilities ensures you select the appropriate equipment for your operational needs.

Counterbalance Forklifts

Counterbalance forklifts are the most common type of forklift truck and are distinguished by their weight at the back of the vehicle, which offsets the load to be lifted. They are versatile, with electric, diesel, or gas-powered engines, and can operate in tight spaces without the need for extended reach capabilities.

Reach Trucks

Reach trucks are designed for operation in narrow aisles, featuring a mast that extends to reach high shelves within a warehouse. The ability to extend and retract their forks allows for safe handling of goods at considerable heights and in confined spaces.

Pallet Jacks

Also known as pump trucks, pallet jacks are a form of manual forklift. They are suitable for moving pallets across flat surfaces. These low-lift trucks are operated by a simple control mechanism to lift pallets slightly off the ground for transportation.

Rough Terrain Forklifts

Rough terrain forklifts are built to navigate and operate on uneven and rough surfaces, typically found in outdoor construction sites. They have robust, large tyres with better grip and a powerful engine to ensure stability and performance in challenging conditions.

Telescopic Handlers

Telescopic handlers, or telehandlers, feature an extendable boom, making them suitable for tasks requiring increased lift height, such as in agriculture or construction. They can have attachments like buckets or winches, increasing their versatility in different tasks.

Legal Requirements for Forklift Operation

Operating a forklift truck in the UK requires adherence to specific legal standards to ensure safety and compliance under the law.

Health and Safety Executive Guidelines

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sets out clear guidelines for forklift operation. It is required that you receive appropriate training to handle a forklift safely. This includes a blend of theoretical learning, practical training, and actual workplace performance assessment. Training covers maneuvering, stacking, and lifting loads, as well as vehicle checks and maintenance.

Appropriate Training:

  • Initial Basic Training: The basics of operating a forklift.
  • Specific Job Training: Knowledge of the workplace and experience with any special needs of the job.
  • Familiarisation Training: Operating the forklift in the conditions it will be used on the job.

License and Certifications

You must possess a certificate to operate a forklift truck. Although it is not a formal ‘license’, as there isn’t an official forklift driving license in the UK, you need documentation from an accredited training provider that confirms your competence.

Necessary Documentation:

  • Accredited Certificate: Showing completion of training as per HSE guidelines.
  • Employer Certification: You must have your skills assessed in your specific workplace, usually overseen by your employer.

Essential Forklift Training Elements

To operate a forklift truck safely and competently, comprehensive training incorporating theoretical knowledge and practical skills is mandatory.

Theoretical Training

Your theoretical training will cover a range of crucial subjects, such as safety regulations, risk assessments, and the principles of forklift operation. You’ll need to learn and understand the Health and Safety at Work Act as well as the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER). This training typically involves:

  • Health and Safety: Understanding your legal responsibilities and the importance of promoting a safe working environment.
  • Forklift Operation Principles: An overview of the mechanics behind forklift trucks and the factors affecting their stability.

Practical Skills

After the theoretical part, your training will move to practical, hands-on exercises. You’ll learn:

  • Vehicle Inspection: Pre-use checks to ensure the forklift is safe and ready for operation.
  • Operation Practices: Hands-on driving, steering, and handling, along with load manipulation, stacking, and de-stacking within a designated area.

Assessment and Examination

At the end of your training, you’ll undergo an assessment to test your understanding and skills. This includes:

  • Written Exam: A test on your theoretical knowledge of forklift operations and safety procedures.
  • Practical Evaluation: A demonstration of your ability to safely operate a forklift truck, including various manoeuvres and tasks.

Advanced Operational Techniques

To operate a forklift truck proficiently, mastering advanced operational techniques is essential, especially when handling hazardous materials and working in restricted spaces.

Handling Hazardous Materials

When managing hazardous materials, you must adhere to strict safety protocols. Proper handling is essential to prevent accidents and ensure a safe working environment.

  • Be familiar with the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for information on the chemicals you’re handling.
  • Use appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves and eye protection.
  • Ensure that forklifts are equipped with safety attachments like drum clamps or slip-sheet attachments if applicable.

Working in Restricted Spaces

Operating a forklift in confined areas demands high precision and awareness.

  • Visibility: Always maintain clear visibility. If your view is obstructed, use a spotter to assist in guiding the forklift.
  • Manoeuvring skills: Practise and refine turning and reversing skills to manoeuvre tight corners without causing damage or injury.
  • Ensure the forklift is appropriate for the space size, considering its turning radius and load capacity.

Ongoing Professional Development

To maintain competency and safety standards, ongoing professional development is essential for operating a forklift truck.

Refresher Courses

Refresher courses are vital to ensure that forklift operators maintain their skills to the required standard. Regulations often dictate that these courses should be taken periodically. They serve to update your knowledge on safety procedures, operating techniques, and relevant legislation, thereby reinforcing safe and efficient work practices.

Specialised Skill Training

Beyond basic operation, you may need to undergo specialised skill training for specific types of forklifts or handling particular materials. This training covers advanced manoeuvres, complex lifting tasks, and perhaps the operation of forklifts in challenging environments. Mastering these special skills can lead to improved safety and productivity in your role as a forklift operator.


Becoming a certified forklift operator involves more than just learning how to drive a vehicle. It requires comprehensive training that covers theoretical knowledge, practical skills, and adherence to legal standards and safety regulations. Forklift operators play a crucial role in maintaining workplace safety and efficiency, making quality training an essential investment for businesses. 

By mastering the necessary skills and continuously updating their knowledge through ongoing professional development, forklift operators contribute to creating a culture of safety and productivity in their workplaces. Whether it’s handling hazardous materials, navigating confined spaces, or mastering specialized equipment, ongoing training ensures that forklift operators are equipped to handle the diverse challenges they may encounter on the job. 

Remember, safety is paramount, and investing in proper training is the key to ensuring the well-being of both operators and those around them. By following some tips and strategies mentioned above, you can become a certified forklift operator and make a lucrative out of it. Isn’t it the best for you? 

Forklift Training
Learn about different types, working mechanisms, inspection techniques and safety considerations of forklift trucks for various types of work environments.
May 20, 2024
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