Forklift Fugitive

Construction Site

When I’m back in my hometown during the summers, I work for the father of one of my friends. I work in a warehouse of his, doing all the things you’d expect: loading trucks, unloading trucks, tracking inventory, and driving a forklift.

It’s that last part that has me a bit concerned. Last time I was home working at the warehouse, another employee joked that he was surprised that a college kid had a forklift license. Well, this college kid doesn’t! Has it been illegal for me to operate a forklift this whole time? What should I do? I don’t want to get my friend’s dad in trouble.

First, the bad news: it is indeed illegal for you to drive a forklift without a special license. OSHA requirements demand that you be licensed and certified, as well as have authorization from your employer. Other than that last part, I'm afraid that you are coming up short.

There are good reasons for this. Operating any type of vehicle can be dangerous, which is why we license drivers for cars, trucks, and other passenger vehicles. And vehicles can also be very different--driving a semi truck is significantly different from driving a car, and so a special license is needed. (Interestingly enough, you do not usually need a license to purchase a vehicle. According to the pros at auto dealerships, you are welcome to buy a car without a license--you just won't be able to drive it!)

Among the vehicles you need a special license to operate is, as we mentioned, the forklift. Forklifts operate in tight areas and lift heavy weights. Forklift accidents claim 85 lives a year and injure nearly 35,000 people. The primary danger is the forklift tipping over--this causes 42% of the fatalities.

As for what you should do about the fact that you're not licensed, the short answer is that you should stop driving the forklift immediately. Since you're not properly trained, you run the risk of injuring--or even killing--yourself and others. If you want to get back on the job, turn to experts in the industry for OSHA-compliant forklift training and go get the licensing and certification you need.

But, whatever you do, don’t keep driving a forklift without a license. It is dangerous for you, your coworkers, and even your friend’s father, who should know better--if you are involved in a forklift accident, his insurance company is not likely to pay up, because his business will have been breaking the rules (as will you).

Speak to your friend’s father and tell him that you are uncomfortable with the situation. Explain your safety concerns and suggest that you could get training--your employer may even subsidize it. Otherwise, you will just need to find something else to do in the warehouse--or another job entirely.

“Life without caution is like a car without brake.” - Bamigboye Olurotimi

(Martin J. Young is a former correspondent of Asia Times).

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