Forklift Operation Is Serious Business: Part I – The Forklift Itself

To an experienced forklift driver operating a forklift is as routine as driving the car to work. A well-seasoned operator has seen or has been instructed on just about everything that goes into the operation. It is a serious responsibility.

Operating a forklift can be more than challenging. (Courtesy: Ingeniorforeningen IDA at flickr.com_

Operating a forklift can be more than challenging.
(Courtesy: Ingeniorforeningen IDA at

To understand the challenge of operating a forklift, consider this: The average American car weighs between 2,500 and 3,500 pounds. A 6,000-pound capacity forklift weighs two or three times more. When operating with a full load, the forklift is hauling as much as 16,000 pounds. Forklift drivers learn that guiding a lift that is carrying a weight of 8 tons is vulnerable to tremendous damage or injury to the driver if an accident occurs. To ensure safety, a forklift driver must know a number of different aspects about how a forklift works, how it responds to outside forces, and how best to guide it to avoid accidents.

Things to consider when learning how to drive a forklift include:

· The physical forklift itself
· How to prevent accidents
· The safe operation of a forklift
· How to fuel the machine
· How to maintain the machine
· Avoiding human error

In the next few articles I will discuss these issues. In Part One I intend to discuss the physical forklift itself.

The Forklift

Properly driving a forklift is truly a unique undertaking. It is essential to know how the lift actually works. For examples, operators understand that a forklift is steered from the rear axle and not from the front axle like a rear-wheel drive car. This set up permits the forklift to turn in a tight radius. However, the rear portion of the lift will swing when it is turned. In fact, the swing that occurs is more considerable than the swing that would occur when driving a car.

Although it is true that to a forklift driver it is as routine to drive a car as it is to drive a forklift, the actual process of driving that lift is far different than driving a car. Forklift drivers must be aware that a forklift:

· Is steered by the rear wheels
· Steers easier when it is loaded than it does when it is empty
· Is driving in reverse as often as forward
· Is often steered with one hand
· Has a center of gravity that is toward the rear, but shifts toward the front when the forks are raised

Moreover, forklifts feature a three-point suspension system that permits the center of gravity to shift, which increases the possibility that it can tip over. The physical forklift’s center of gravity shifts to allow for the positioning of the load. So the center of gravity shifts when the lift is accelerated, when the brakes are applied, and when it is turned. Therefore, the forklift driver must take caution when accelerating, braking and turning.

Moreover, since the load itself also affects the center of gravity, it is advised that the load should be tilted back and close to the mast of the lift with the mast tilting back when the lift is traveling.

Drivers should avoid traveling with the load elevated to clear obstacles or curbs. When traveling a ramp with an incline of more than 10 percent, move forward up the ramp and reverse down.

Drivers should always keep in mind that the forklift is designed to carry loads. So an unloaded forklift is more susceptible to tipping because of the extreme weight of the counterbalance. The lesson here is that the driver needs to be just as cautious when operating an unloaded forklift as he is operating a loaded one.

The forklift operator should know about the forklift design and capacity, how much the unit weighs and how much it can carry. This information is present on the manufacturer’s identification plate or nameplate.

(Next time: Preventing Accidents)

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