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Deaf, Drive Forklift?

By September 10, 2004

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Are you deaf and do you drive a forklift? If you do, I'd like to hear from you because an About visitor e-mailed me to say that he was not being allowed to drive a forklift at work due to his deafness. I have already responded to him and provided him with a few resources, but wonder if there are any deaf forklift operators out there. Here is the e-mail:
"I am Deaf, and trying to advance in my workplace. The Company is an Envelope Factory. It is very noisy enviroment. I dont mind as I shut off my hearing aid. I have been told I can not be an Operator on the machine for "Safety reasons". I recently asked my supervisor what the requirements were for operating a forklift, and I have yet to get a response. This is unusual for him as he normally responds within 24 hrs. It has now been almost a week. I m sure he is communicating with Human Resources. I would not be surprised if "Safety reasons" would be the response I get back, if I ever get one. I have driven a forklift in previous places, but they always refused to allow me to become licenced. It is Company Policy that only licenced people r allowed to drive forklifts. They would hire a brandnew hearing person and immediately send him for training and licence. I have asked many times there, and still never have training. And then one day, through no fault of mine, I was told I cant drive a forklift for "Safety Reasons". How can I get past this shield and do the jobs I know I can do?"

August 17, 2006 at 12:50 am
(1) kevin says:

I am deaf in left ear and partle deaf in left.The place I work at is also very noisy and every one talks very loud so it works for me. I am currently learning to drive the fork lift. everyone knows about my disabilty but they dont have a problem about it.I found out that the hearing drivers r sometimes as deaf (when driving) as i am. Again it is very loud and I dont think there is much diffrence whether or not you can hear. What there doing is discrimination and I think you should take legle action agenst the company. contact O.S.A.(I think that’s how it’s spelled)and find out if there are limitations for forklift drivers. Good luck and God bless.

September 7, 2006 at 12:46 am
(2) Wendy P. McMahan says:

I am Deaf in both ears. I used to work at Levolor Blinds. I took forklift training class. Everyone at work knows that I am deaf. Before taking the test to get my forklift licence. I had praticed my forklift skill. I did good. I make sure that I am always looking out for other forklift drivers for safety reason. There is only one forklift that I couldnt do.. it’s that stands up and moves. I can sit down and drive and move from one pallet to another pallet.

Needless to say… I am a WOMAN. I was able to ace the test and get my forklift licence. I made sure that I got OSHA to be aware of my skills and they had no objects. Levolor Blinds is in High Point, NC

Another friend of mine is deaf as well and He’s black guy. He has forklift licence and can drive it. He works for different company from mine.

I also know of a deaf guy who works at Post Office and he can drive the stand up forklift. He said it’s very diffcuilt but in the long run.. He wanted to show that he can do it and he had been doing that for more than 20 years.

Who says that the Deaf people CAN”T drive forklift?

August 2, 2007 at 10:01 am
(3) hector says:

iam deaf some were is hard nto sight me tired too made same it other i not know what happen me guess but think me try it deep in how can’t get forklift me oh deal can so live in pennslvania….thank you

August 31, 2007 at 1:54 am
(4) Dee says:

A guy I work with at a distribution center is deaf and is allowed to drive a forklift.
they just told him not to forget to use the horn.
there shouldnt be a problem

April 22, 2008 at 8:54 am
(5) Tom Courtney says:

Hi: I have been an OSHA authorized forklift safety trainer for 20 years. OSHA says nothing about being deaf,

but it does require the use of horns and audible warning devices in certain situations. My feeling is that

your deafness is definitely a factor that must be taken into account in your forklift operator training.

However, it should not prevent you from operating a forklift, unless your situation is:

1. specifically hazardous for a deaf person or
2. superficially hazardous for others because you are deaf, and
3. either of these situations cannot be overcome by training.

I would like to help you, so you must deal with a couple of references in the OSHA Code. First the U.S. Code

of Federal Regulations 1910.178 (n) (4) says:

The driver shall be required to slow down and sound the horn at cross aisles and other locations where vision

is obstructed. This is the only mention of audible warnings in the federal code. If you could not hear the

warning, you and/ or others might possibly endangered, especially if everyone has come to depend on hearing

the horn as a warning.

But you will notice that the horn is only recommended when vision is obstructed. Vision is much more important

than hearing. Note what 1910.178 (l) (ii) says:

A powered industrial truck is unattended when the operator is 25 ft. or more away from the vehicle which

remains in his view, or whenever the operator leaves the vehicle and it is not in his view.

Here the requirement is related to vision. There is no specific hearing requirement.

There is nothing in the federal OSHA Code that mentions anything about deaf people. There are, however, many

references to having proper vision.

There is one small problem, 1910.178 (l):

Operator Training. Only trained and authorized operators shall be permitted to operate a powered industrial


“Authorized” refers to who is in charge in a given situation. In the situation of your job, that would be your

employer. And if your employer thinks it is unsafe, they have the authority to authorize operators or not to.

I think it is possible that OSHA’s Final Rule of 1999 can help you. In order to get a feel for what it says, I

will print out a small section of it:

These provisions mandate a training program that bases the amount and type of training required on:
* the operator’s prior knowledge and skill
* the types of powered industrial trucks the operator will operate in the workplace
* the hazards present in the workplace
* and the operator’s demonstrated ability to operate a powered industrial truck safely

The way I read this is that the employer is actually required to give you (and the others in your company)

training that is operator-specific, site-specific and equipment-specific.

I have been teaching for 20 years, and everything about OSHA safety enforcement speaks to the subject of

safety as modifying it so it “fits” or is appropriate for the specific situation, the site, the equipment

being used and the needs and skills of the operators.

I am sure that your employer is concerned for everyone’s safety and also for their liability. But I have also

learned something in 20 years. There is no perfect safety. There are only a lot of unique situations that we

have no choice to deal with.

If we were required by OSHA to achieve perfect safety, there would be no forklifts. There would also be no

cars, trains, planes and etc.

As a safety instructor I have certified thousands of people. Every one of them is unique. Many of them cannot

pass the written test, because they cannot read, or maybe they can read, but not in English.

In any case, my responsibility as a good OSHA instructor, is to find out if they can drive a forklift safely,

even if they cannot read my written test.

Of course, they must be able to read and understand traffic and warning signs. But I have always produced the

safest operators by sitting down with those who seem to be having a problem and taking a few minutes to find

out what it is.

This is actually a somewhat complex subject, because I have not even attempted to get into handicapped and

employment law, etc. So I will try and cut to a quick recommendation.

If your employer feels you and the other forklift operators in your company can provide a reasonably safe

situation, then they will not be held liable for letting a deaf person operate the equipment.

OSHA will not “slam” them for letting you drive a forklift. The key is that the employer follow the proper

training requirements, that is selectively authorizing certified operators to use the equipment.

Your employer really has the authority to authorize you to operate a forklift, if you are certified and in

their opinion, you and they have provided for the fact that you are deaf.

So specifically, what needs to be done depends on the company site or facilities and the type of equipment you

will be driving and other facts specific to your situation. What OSHA wants to see is that you are certified

and that the training is in pursuit of fulfilling OSHA requirements, and that the training is documented.

The difficult thing is that in some situations, you would be completely safe, or at least as safe as anyone

else. And in some situations, you would not be safe.

It is hard for me to give specifics, because I am not there, but if you asked me, “How would you certify a

deaf operator?” I believe I would apply the normal training procedures and certify you if you passed.

You have an extra responsibility, though, which if you do not acknowledge it, you will not strictly be in

compliance with OSHA, and you will not be safe.

You are the one who is deaf. You must be honest with yourself as to whether you are really safe in the

operating conditions of your employer. If you just push to get to drive, but have not analyzed the issue in

your mind, you have not met your responsibility.

I believe it would be your responsibility to notify others that you are deaf.

It might be appropriate to notify other forklift operators “Do not honk your horn at me, because I cannot hear


Horns are more important in traffic. The more traffic, the more the horn is needed. Conversely, the less the

traffic, the less need of a horn.

Are you licensed to drive an automobile?

If you are licensed by your state to operate an automobile, I think this would be in your favor.

I have learned that OSHA is not unreasonable.

And the key to protection against liability is

1. A goodwill effort to comply, and
2. Documentation

I have never heard of OSHA penalizing anyone who made even a reasonable effort at compliance.

You must determine for yourself if you are safe, and if you really are about as safe as everyone else, then

absolutely, you have a right under federal OSHA requirements, to operate a forklift.

So, I hope this has been helpful to you.

Please let me know the outcome of all this.

Tom Courtney, Forklift1, http://forklift1.com


The state of California General Industry Safety Order 3661 (a) says:

Every industrial truck and tractor, except those guided or controlled by operator, shall be equipped with a

warning horn, whistle, gong, or other device which can be heard clearly above the normal industrial noises in

the places of employment.

So this is just another reason that you must be careful and take this and the fact that you are deaf

specifically into account.

December 2, 2008 at 11:40 pm
(6) Unifork says:

I am a deaf person to drive on stand up forklift truck for more than ten years, must follow the rules always check and look back before to move the forklift truck, always make sure that somebody to turn and check for us, of course to honk the horns, I am now using hearing aid that a little help, but really not neccessary because some places are very noises and dangerous they are wearing ear plugs while operating the forklift trucks and they dont hear the horns as well..the most important is to watch where you go, be cautious and slow down at the corners and blind spots. So always follow the rules what the trainers had taught us about safety on forklift truck. Every places are hazardous no matter where you work. Only important is to think safety always in your mind.

April 10, 2011 at 3:09 am
(7) Jennifer says:

I would like to know if forklift is a fun job and if i am up to the standerds I would requier for this job? I myself too am hearing impaired although I wear hearing device so I can hear sounds well but i cant hear words clearly. I am interesting to get forklift training. I heard that most company only except more than a year experence.
My question is do you know a company that accept less then a year experience with forklift?

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