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Forklift Safety Information - Forklift Operation

Operating a forklift becomes second nature after awhile. Unfortunately, ingrained bad habits can also become second nature. That's why it's important to occasionally go back to the basics of forklift operation and review safe forklift operation techniques. Compare your forklift operating procedures to these OSHA recommendations. Have you become complacent?

Entering and Exiting the Forklift

how to safely enter a forklift

While entering and exiting a safely parked forklift is probably the least dangerous part of forklift pre-operation, OSHA statistics prove that injuries do occur even before the forklift is running and after it has been shut down. In particular, slipping and falling from lift trucks when entering or exiting happen frequently. To prevent this from happening to you:

  1. Make sure your hands are clean and dry to ensure you can firmly grasp handholds.
  2. Always use handholds for support. Do not use the steering wheel, which can move and cause you to lose your balance.
  3. Wear appropriate non-skid footwear and make sure the soles are dry and free of grease.
  4. Distribute your weight evenly when entering and exiting the cab. Never jump out of the forklift.

Before Starting the Forklift

checking tires is part of a pre-operation forklift inspection

Before starting a forklift, always do a pre-operation inspection. The pre-operation inspection only takes a few minutes and is an OSHA safety requirement. A basic pre-operation inspection for all forklifts includes:

  • Checking all fluid levels.
  • Checking for leaks, cracks and other visible defects in hydraulic hoses and mast chains.
  • Tire pressure and condition check, including cuts and gouges in the tires.
  • Fork condition check, including the top clip retaining pin and heel.
  • Check load backrest extension.
  • Inspect finger guards.
  • Make sure dataplate and warning decals are clearly visible and legible.
  • Check for grease and debris in the operator compartment.
  • Make sure all safety devices, including the horn and seat belt.

Other inspections are required for specific forklift types. For more information, refer to OSHA's Pre-Operation Inspection page online.

Before Operating the Forklift

forklift inspection with engine running

OSHA also requires an operational check be carried out after the forklift has been started. This check includes all of the following:

  • Accelerator linkage
  •  Inch control (if equipped)
  • Brakes
  • Steering
  • Forward and reverse drive control
  • Forward and back tilt control
  • Hoist and lowering control
  • Attachment control
  • Horn
  • Lights
  • Back-up alarm (if equipped)
  • Hour meter

If anything is faulty or appears to be faulty, it should be inspected and repaired if necessary before the forklift is put into operation.

Operating at Speed

Far too many preventable accidents occur in forklifts. Preventing accidents is largely just a matter of habitually operating them safely as outlined by OSHA. The 2 most common types of serious and fatal accidents are caused when a forklift tips over or collides with pedestrians or obstacles. When operating at speed, always:

  • Fasten your seat belt before operating a forklift.
  • Travel at a speed that permits you to stop it smoothly and safely.
  • Slow down on wet and  slippery surfaces.
  • Look in the direction you're traveling and maintain a clear view of the path ahead of you.
  • Slow down and sound your horn in locations where vision is obstructed, such as cross aisles.
  • If your load obstructs your view, travel in reverse (with the load trailing) for better vision.
  • Reduce speed and turn in a smooth motion when turning.
  • Ascend and descend sloping grades slowly.
  • On grades greater than 10 percent, keep the load upgrade.
  • Avoid running over loose objects.

For further information about forklift stability, refer to our article, Forklift Safety Information: Forklift Stability. Forklift stability is one of the least understood and most important aspects of safe forklift operation.

Note: This article is for your information only and is not intended to replace OSHA approved forklift training materials. The illustrations and much of the information in this article come from OSHA's Traveling & Maneuvering page. More extensive information is available there.

Further Reading:

What You Need to Know about Forklift Load Capacities
Forklift Stability Basics
The 17-Point Forklift Safety Inspection
Forklift Attachment Safety FAQs