How to Properly Control a Forklift

Photo courtesy of Pyroban via Wikimedia  Commons

Photo courtesy of Pyroban via Wikimedia Commons

To somebody who has never operated a forklift before, it can look a lot like driving a car. In fact, many of the controls are the same, including a steering wheel, a gas pedal, an ignition starter. And in many workplaces, if you have a valid driver’s license, you are allowed to get behind the wheel of a forklift.

But forklifts and automobiles drive very differently. And knowledge of one doesn’t necessarily mean you can operate the other one safely.

Many accidents involving forklift occur because the operators aren’t familiar with how to control the vehicle, particularly its rear end swing. Unlike cars, forklifts steer from the rear wheels and pivot on the front wheels.

The counterweight attached to the rear of the forklift can accelerate this swing when turning, which can take some getting used to for novice operators. Plus, the weight of the counterweight is potentially destructive, so care needs to be taken when swinging the vehicle around materials, racks, equipment and people — as well as when rounding corners and maneuvering in tight spaces such as between racks.

The rear wheels of most forklifts can be turned at nearly a 90-degree angle. This increases the tail’s swing, but it also means that the vehicle’s front wheels will pivot as the driver approaches a load.

That’s why it’s important to keep the forklift close to the inside of the turn so that you can allow for the tail to swing wide.

Turning Sharp Corners

When approaching a load from around a corner, keep the forks as far away as possible from the stockpile. Don’t try to start your turn near the middle of the aisle or you may miss it and have to start over.

Remember to negotiate turns by keeping closer to the inside corner and beginning your turn when the drive wheels meet the corner.

Turning Across Narrow Aisles

Some forklifts are specially made to operate in narrow aisles. Known as Narrow Aisle Forklifts, these have a tighter turning radius than traditional forklifts.

When turning a standard forklift across a narrow aisle, keep as close as possible to the inside of the corner. Don’t start your turn from the middle of the aisle.

Use your front inside wheel to judge the point at which you should start your turn. Pay attention to the forklift’s tail swing so you don’t strike any pedestrians or racking. Always know where the rear of your vehicle is at all times.

Slow Down

Even when you are in a hurry, slow down when turning and always be super aware of the swing of your vehicle’s tail. Remember, the counterweight weighs several hundred pounds and can cause serious damage if it strikes anything or anybody.



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