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Know the Different Types of Forklifts


Forklifts are a vital cog in the supply chain of America. They make it possible to move products from one site to another in a timely and efficient manner. They also come in more makes and models that many people realize. Each unique forklift type is designed to perform certain tasks in various work environments.

OSHA divides forklifts into seven distinct forklift classifications. These are based on many factors, including:

  • Type of engine
  • Type of carriage
  • Type of forks
  • How the forklift is operated
  • The type of jobs it is suited for
  • Indoor versus outdoor worksites

Knowing the different OSHA forklift classifications can help ensure you use the right truck for the job.

OSHA Forklift Classification: Electric Motor Trucks

Electric motor forklifts are powered by rechargeable batteries. They generally cost more to buy than gasoline forklifts, but have fewer maintenance issues.



This forklift classification includes counterbalanced rider and stand-up trucks. They are mainly used indoors, and are also known as a three-wheel forklift. They can have either cushion or pneumatic (solid) tires. Class 1 forklifts are used in warehouses or on smooth surfaces that four-wheel forklifts are not well suited for. Perhaps their best feature is the ability to roll into the back of a trailer, grab pallets, and move them where they need to go.



Trucks in this forklift classifications are designed for racking pallets on smooth surfaces between narrow warehouse aisles. The single reach forklifts can extend the distance of one pallet. The double reach forklifts can extend the distance of two pallets. These forklifts require outriggers to support the weight of the load. Class 2 trucks can navigate well in tight spaces. This allows for more storage space within the same footprint. The operator platform can be raised and lowered. This makes the truck ideal for picking single items when putting together an order and for putting away inventory.



Class 3 forklifts include hand and hand/rider forklifts. They are used for two main tasks. One is loading and unloading trailers. The other is moving loads short distances in narrow aisles. Drivers do not sit down on Class 3 forklifts. Instead, they control the forklift by standing when they ride or walking behind. Trucks in this forklift classification are ideal for unloading tractor-trailers and moving loads to a staging area.


OSHA Forklift Classification: Internal Combustion (IC) Trucks

IC forklifts can be powered by gasoline, diesel or propane engines. They cost less to buy than electrics. But they may cost more to operate in the long run.



Trucks in this forklift classification are used for unloading large trucks and moving pallets and other loads. They can have more power than electric trucks. They can also move faster over long distances. Class 4 forklifts are counterbalanced trucks that run on cushion tires. The tires cause the truck to ride lower to the ground than with solid tires. This makes the forklift well suited for low-clearance spaces.



These forklifts have the same design as Class 4 IC engine trucks, but they use solid tires. This gives them more ground clearance. It also allows them to be used indoors and outdoors on different surfaces. Class 5 trucks can have a weight capacity up to 55,000 lbs., and can handle everything from single pallets to loaded 40-foot containers.



Class 6 forklifts are sometimes called “tuggers” because they pull loads rather than lifting them. They are often used at airports to pull carts of luggage to a plane for loading. They are also used to quickly transport workers around a warehouse. One-man Class 6 trucks come with three wheels. Larger four-wheel trucks come with beds on the back for hauling loads. These trucks can be powered by an electric motor or any type of IC engine. They can use cushion or solid tires, depending on the terrain.



Class 7 trucks are specifically designed for uneven terrain. Their large, tractor-style tires make them ideal for working on construction sites. They can have two-wheel or four-wheel drive. They usually come with a straight mast, but can have a telescoping mast for a longer reach. Most trucks in this OSHA forklift classification are powered by diesel engines, and come in three different types:


  • Vertical mast forklifts. These are designed for outdoor use.


  • Variable reach forklifts. These have a telescopic boom to lift and place loads at various heights and distances. Being able to reach out in front of the truck provides more flexibility when placing loads.


  • Trailer mounted forklifts. These are portable, self-propelled lifts. The forklift is mounted to the back of a truck or trailer and used to unload heavy items.


Forklift Carriage Classifications

Forklift forks don’t directly connect to the mast. Instead they attach to the forklift carriage. Knowing your forklift’s carriage class can help you understand what forks will work with your forklift. There are five forklift carriage classifications:

Class 1

  • Carriage height: 13”
  • Lifting capacity: Less than 2,200 lbs.


Class 2

  • Carriage height: 16”
  • Lifting capacity: 2,200 lbs. to 5,500 lbs.


Class 3

  • Carriage height: 20”
  • Lifting capacity: 5,500 lbs. to 10,988 lbs.


Class 4

  • Carriage height: 25”
  • Lifting capacity: 11,000 lbs. to 17,600 lbs.


Class 5

  • Carriage height: 28.66”
  • Lifting capacity: 17,602 lbs. to 24,198 lbs.


Forklift Fork Classifications

Forks are one of the simplest forklift parts, but they are just as important as any other.

They come in two basic styles, and a few specialty styles. Basic forklift fork classifciation styles include:


ITA Style. This is the most common type of fork. It is divided into three classes based on the carriage height they can mount to.


  • Class 2 – 16″ carriage height
  • Class 3 – 20″ carriage height
  • Class 4 – 25″ carriage height

Shaft Mount or Pin Mount Forks. These forks mount on a pole on the carriage. The tips of these forks come in three basic styles:

  • Style 1 – The front of the fork is flat with a gently rounded edge. This is the most common tip.Style 2 – They have a sharper front end point, and are often used with block forks.Style 3 – The tip is flat across the entire width. It is standard for forks wider than seven inches.

There’s a lot to know about forklifts, but nothing is more important than knowing how to safely operate them. Visit for OSHA-certified training that is fast, affordable, and designed to keep your workers and your forklifts safe. We can train your workers on the forklift classifications they need to perform their jobs safely and efficiently.

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