Forklift operators have to pass a test specific to the type of forklift they will be using before they're allowed to operate a forklift.

©iStockphoto.com/Niko Guido

Forklift Design and Classifications

Most of us have a good idea of what a forklift looks like but there are actually seven classifications of forklifts (aka industrial trucks). The classifications are set up by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, and include the following typed of forklifts:

  • Class I: Electric Motor Rider Trucks
  • Class II: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks
  • Class III: Electric Motor Hand Trucks or Hand/Rider Trucks
  • Class IV: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (Solid/Cushion Tires)
  • Class V: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (Pneumatic Tires)
  • Class VI: Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors
  • Class VII: Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks

[Source: OSHA]

The classifications above give us some general distinctions between forklifts, such as different types of tires, power sources and even terrain. Forklifts can be fitted with pneumatic tires, which consist of a durable rubber that can go outdoors; these tires are similar to the tires on your car. Or solid tires (aka cushion tires), which are made of solid rubber tire that are typically used on forklifts that will be used indoors on hard and flat surfaces [source: Forkliftbiz.com].

Aside from the tires, there are some basic elements that make up most forklifts. They include:

  • Frame: The foundation of all the forklift parts
  • Counterweight: Used to stabilize the forklift when lifting heavy loads
  • Power Source: Usually liquid propane gas, gasoline, diesel engine or batteries
  • Mast: Hydraulically operated lift used to raise and lower a load
  • Forks: Prongs that lift up a wooden pallet
  • Load Back-rest: Keeps the load from shifting backwards
  • Overhead Guard: Protects the operator from a falling load

[Source: Forkliftbiz.com]

Forklifts can be outfitted with different attachments, such as for carrying barrels instead of lifting pallets, and each type of forklift class is designed for certain types of loads and specific working conditions. Forklift operators have to pass a test specific to the type of forklift they will be using before they're allowed to operate a forklift.

One type or forklift that's found on construction sites is called the rough terrain forklift. These forklifts lift constructions equipment, roofing supplies, brick, lumber and other heavy supplies. These forklifts can lift a load the size of a pickup truck on top of a four-story building.

Up next, find out how forklift technology is evolving and how it impacts the way we move our heavy loads.