Forklift Braking and Workplace Safety

Photo via Monica Zou at

Photo via Monica Zou at

In the past 20 years, safety standards for cars and trucks have increased significantly. Many are now fitted with anti-lock braking systems that help prevent drivers losing control of their vehicles by keeping wheels from freezing up when slamming on the brakes.

Forklifts, however, aren’t covered by the same safety requirements. So stopping a forklift to avoid a collision can be a lot trickier than stopping a car or pickup truck.

Braking Distance

While forklifts don’t typically travel as fast as cars or trucks, they also can’t stop as quickly or accurately. And when they are carrying heavy payloads, forklifts can take even further to stop.

If a forklift is traveling 7 miles per hour, it can take the operator approximately 16 feet to stop the vehicle completely in an emergency. Increase that speed to 9 mph and it can take more than 21 feet to stop.

That’s a lot of distance, especially if there is a pedestrian, another vehicle, or any other type of obstacle in the way.

Slipping, Sliding, and Turning Over

When forklifts are carrying loads, they are more likely to slip, slide, or turn over if the operator tries to stop in a hurry. Or the load itself can go flying from the vehicle’s forks, creating another potential hazard.

Uneven surfaces, uphill and downhill slopes, and slippery ground conditions can also increase how long it takes for the operator to stop the vehicle, or impair the forklift’s ability to stop completely.

Controlling Speeds

With this in mind, it’s important that forklift operators understand that they may not be able to stop their vehicles in a timely manner in the event of an emergency. So instead they need to control their speed to create a safer environment in the workplace.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to limit the interaction of industrial vehicles and pedestrians. If possible, create separate lanes for forklifts and workers.

Limit the top speeds operators may use their vehicles through employee training, posting speed limit signs, or installing speed limiting devices on the forklifts themselves. These devices reduce the top speed of forklifts, depending on the vehicle’s maximum load weight, height, and turning radius.

Finally, management should consider what motivates operators to speed in the first place. If there are incentives for getting jobs done more quickly, these should be reconsidered.

There’s always a balance between safety and efficiency.  Forklifts are too big, heavy, and powerful to put your employees or property at risk.


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