Things You Should Know About Forklifts

Things You Should Know About Forklifts

Forklifts are great at moving large and heavy loads around the job site. They can lift, lower, place, and transport items that would be impossible to move using human power – and impractical to move using cranes or other devices. Forklifts fill an essential role and are very widely used: there are over one million operating in the US today.

Forklifts come in many styles, sizes and capacities. They can be powered by batteries, propane, gasoline or diesel fuel. Some are designed to be used in a hazardous location or atmosphere where an ordinary forklift might cause a fire or explosion.

As useful as they are, forklifts are also potentially very dangerous. Each year there are an average of 100 deaths and 20,000 serious injuries from forklift mishaps. Many are preventable, but prevention takes awareness, knowledge, care and enforcement of policies and procedures within an industrial setting. Both operators and pedestrians are at risk for injury or death because of improper forklift operations.

IBT Safety can assist you in establishing and enforcing proper training and procedures. Ask IBT Safety for more information.

The major keys to safer operation are fundamental:

  • Appropriate equipment
  • Operator training
  • Management observation and correction
  • Equipment maintenance

More points to remember:

  • Driving a forklift is different than driving a car
  • In a car or truck the front wheels steer the vehicle. A forklift has the steering wheels in the rear.
  • A forklift is not as responsive as a car when turning the steering wheel. Rear steering makes it difficult to stop a forklift quickly or swerve and still maintain control.
  • It is much heavier than a car (3,000 lbs. vs. 9,000 lbs.)
  • It is easier to tip over on a turn whether it is loaded or not.
  • A forklift can be driven backwards or forwards equally well.

The most frequent accidents involve tipping over, falling sideways or dropping the load. You can prevent this by:

  • Keeping the load is stable and safely on the forks.
  • Only tilting the forks forward when picking up or depositing a load.
  • Tilting the load backward to stabilize the load.
  • Keeping the load low just above the pavement with forks tilted back when traveling.
  • Crossing railroad tracks diagonally when possible.
  • Entering elevators squarely.
  • Keeping the load uphill when going up or down an incline.
  • Driving at a moderate and safe speed.
  • Slowing down on wet or slippery surfaces and while making turns.
  • Avoiding driving over loose objects or on surfaces with ruts and holes.
  • Never, ever engage in stunt driving or horseplay.

Operators must:

  • Maintain control of the forklift at all times.
  • Stay in the driver’s seat or station.
  • Never start it or operate the controls while standing beside the forklift.
  • Never allow passengers unless the forklift was designed for a passenger.
  • Never drive a forklift up to anyone in front of a bench or other fixed object.


  • Be aware of where the forklifts are on your job.
  • Listen for horns, audible backup alarms.
  • Watch for flashing lights. The flashing lights are critical in high-noise environments.

Managers are responsible for:

  • Understanding OSHA requirements.
  • P roviding documented training and maintaining performance qualification for all operators.
  • The training has three parts: instruction by lecture, discussion, interactive computer learning, video tape and/or written material; practical, hands-on training including demonstrations and exercises; on-the-job observation and evaluation. (Repeated every three years.)

To make sure your organization is up to speed and up to snuff with OSHA requirements and safe practices and policies around forklifts in general, contact IBT Safety.


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