Home » Courses » Occupational Safety & Health » Forklift Operator

Forklift Operator

Available in English, Spanish

Mobile Ready

Instant Safety Video

About 85 workers are killed in forklift accidents each year, while nearly 35,000 more workers are seriously injured by forklift accidents. About half of the forklift fatalities are related to vehicles tipping over and crushing operators.

Labor Statistics, OSHA

Forklift Safety Training

Some folks make their living running a forklift all day, facilitating the storage and transportation of durable goods and materials. For these people, it is critically important to have regular, quality forklift safety training because once a person feels mastery over the operation of a machine, complacency can set in, and when corners are cut in safe practices, serious accidents can happen. Forklift accidents are expensive, with serious injuries or fatalities, and damage to goods and machines, which is why forklift safety training is crucial to any workplace environment. 

A lot of forklifts are set up like your basic automobile, with a steering wheel, a foot pedal to accelerate, and four wheels. But there are major differences. For one, a forklift uses its rear wheels for steering, allowing the forklift to turn in a much tighter radius than a car. This rear wheel steering also causes the tail end of the forklift to swing much wider than a car to accomplish tighter corners.

Another major difference between a forklift and a car is in the stability of the vehicle. A forklift has just three points of stability—the front wheels and the center of the rear axle—while a car has four points of stability. This means that a forklift can tip over much easier than a car, and the statistics show that to be a common occurrence with forklift incidents.

A forklift cannot stop, turn, or accelerate as quickly or as solidly as a car, especially when carrying a load. Forklifts also weigh much more than an average car, up to two to three times as much or more, which is why the chance of tipping over is such a dangerous one.

Forklift safety training is critical for a safe workplace. In addition, safe workplace conditions like rough surfaces, obstructions, and closed environments can present hazardous conditions that must be addressed. Most forklifts are not designed to handle rough working surfaces like a car. The extreme weight and limited stability of forklifts dramatically reduces the ability to handle rough surfaces, especially when loaded.

Let’s run through some scenarios that present adversity for forklift operators and proper forklift safety.

Rough Driving Conditions

  • Surfaces with holes, loose gravel, or slick spots, such as oil, grease and water spills;
  • Weather conditions, such as rain, ice, and snow can create hazardous areas for outdoor work;
  • Forklift operators should avoid these conditions;
  • Forklift operators should also report and/or take corrective action to eliminate them.

Forklift operators must also be aware of the strength of the floor they are drive on. The surface must be able to easily withstand the combined weight of the forklift and load. Make certain before driving the forklift onto any surface that it will support the combined weight of vehicle and load. Forklift operators never want to test surface strength the hard way, and increase the probability of an accident. Operators should ask a manager or supervisor, if they have questions, about any working surface for proper forklift safety.

Forklift operators can reduce or eliminate the chances of colliding with an obstruction by keeping aware of the work environment. Obstructions can be pipes, beams, doors or anything else that can strike a load or mast from above or the side. Scan in all directions—above and around, not just forward and backward—before moving out. Look for signs posting clearance levels. 

Here’s another often overlooked hazard involving forklifts. Operating internal combustion forklifts powered by diesel or gasoline will create a hazard in a closed environment. They discharge carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas. Propane powered lifts are also considered an internal combustion lift, but may be operated indoors as long as the area is adequately ventilated.

Avoid working in enclosed spaces that are not ventilated or improperly ventilated. Symptoms of exposure to carbon monoxide include headaches, nausea, dizziness, and some sleepiness for drivers and other workers. Exposure to high concentrations can be deadly. If workers are experiencing these symptoms, they need to get to fresh air immediately. Battery-powered forklifts provide a solution to the situation, since they emit no hazardous fumes.

Tragically, one of the most common accidents in the workplace is a pedestrian being struck by a forklift. These accidents can be avoided through constant awareness to pedestrian traffic and right-of-ways, keeping the forklift under control, maintaining maximum visibility, and the appropriate use of audible or visual devices for safe operation.

Sounding the horn when approaching corners may alert pedestrians to the presence of a forklift vehicle, but forklift operators are never to assume that pedestrians are aware of their presence simply because of any beeping tones or flashing lights—employees with auditory or visual impairments cannot recognize these caution signs.

When traveling with a load that restricts the view, forklift operators must take measures to maintain maximum visibility. Traveling in reverse is the safest course when the forward view is blocked. Operators must always face the direction they are traveling in. If visibility is limited, they should use a spotter to assist in maneuvering.

Keeping a Forklit's Lift Under Control

  • The tremendous weight of the forklift simply won’t allow for stopping ‘on a dime’.
  • Forklifts require more time and distance to brake.
  • Keep speeds down in case a pedestrian does get close to the forklift.
  • Never drive up to anyone standing in front of a fixed object.
  • Never allow anyone to have any part of their body underneath the load. Ever.
Course Outline
  • Fundamentals
  • Forklift Stability And Capacity
  • Forklift Load Handling
  • Forklift Safe Driving Practices
  • Forklift Safety Standards
  • Forklift Inspection And Maintenance

29 CFR 1910.178 Lift truck related topics.