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Operator Requirements for Powered Industrial Trucks

By Bruce Dalton MD, MPH, FACOEM

The Occupational Safety and Health Standards for General Industry (29 CFR Part 1910) do not specifically address medical standards for forklift operators. However, paragraph 1910.178 (l)(1)(i) Safe Operation states "The employer shall ensure that each powered industrial truck operator is competent to operate a powered industrial truck safely, as demonstrated by successful completion of the training and evaluation…." In addition, by incorporation by reference, OSHA cites ANSI Standard B56.1-69 Safety Standard for Powered Industrial Trucks as applicable. The ANSI Standard states: "Operators of powered industrial trucks shall be qualified as to visual, auditory, physical, and mental ability to operate the equipment safely…."

In many ways this can be considered a "performance standard" requiring only that all operators of powered industrial trucks undergo the required training and demonstrate the ability to safely operate the vehicle under representative working conditions. In cases of visual or hearing impairment, particular attention should be paid to operation in confined areas where vision and hearing are critical to safe operations. Once accomplished and documented, these impairments should not pose a safety risk as long as safe operating practices are followed. This approach recognizes that there is precedence for the safe operation of powered industrial trucks by individuals with hearing and visual impairments.

However, it is reasonable to conclude that operation of a powered industrial truck by a person with hearing loss, visual impairment or monocular vision poses an increased safety risk. This position is consistent with the requirements of the Standard. In response, some companies have established minimum physical requirements for powered industrial truck (usually forklift) operators. A common requirement is that all operators must have corrected visual acuity of 20/40 or better bilaterally. As with all selection criteria, these requirements must be clearly stated in company policy and applied uniformly to all subject employees.

The ADA

The ADA (Americans with Disability Act) does not consider visual impairment (less than legal blindness), monocular vision, or hearing loss (less than total deafness) as disabilities covered under the Act. Therefore, the ADA does not apply in this situation and reasonable accommodation for operators of powered industrial trucks should not be a consideration.


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