Putting Operators in the Driver’s Seat for Forklift Safety


Safety all starts with being aware of your surroundings. **CLICK on the image to view or print the safety graphic in its entirety.

Putting Forklift Safety in perspective all one needs to do is think of when one first applied for a driver’s license.

If somebody wants to learn how to drive a car, they are often required to take hours of classroom instruction, spend days with a state-licensed instructor practicing in real traffic, then must pass a written exam, an eye exam, and a driving test. Only then can they can be issued a driver’s license.

If somebody wants to learn how to drive a forklift, however, all they need to do is get hired by someone willing to hire them as a forklift operator.

While federal law requires employers to provide training for forklift safety, there are no specifics about how much instruction new forklift drivers require. It’s essentially up to the business.

Different than Driving a Car

Many companies require operators to have a state driver’s license as a qualification for a forklift job. But driving a forklift and driving a car aren’t the same thing.

Forklifts steer from the rear axle rather than the front axle like cars do. This rear-wheel drive allows forklifts to turn in a tight radius. But it also means that the rear of the forklift swings much wider than the rear of a car.

Other differences between cars and forklifts include:

  • Forklifts steer more easily when they are carrying loads than they do when they are empty due to the load being balanced by the counterweight
  • Forklifts drive in reverse at least as often as they are driven forward
  • Forklifts are frequently steered with one hand
  • A forklift’s center of gravity is toward the rear of the vehicle, but shifts toward the front the higher the forks are raised

Another huge difference is that forklifts are far more likely to flip over than cars.

Ther Ever-Changing Center of Gravity

Most forklifts use a three-point suspension that allows the center of gravity to shift, depending on the load’s weight and where it is positioned.

Every time the forklift accelerates, brakes, turns, or raises its forks, the center of gravity will change.

Operators also need to consider the center of gravity of the load itself. Loads should be positioned so they are tilted back and as close to the mast as possible. Drivers can improve balance while driving by tilting the mast back.

Driving While Carrying a Load

Loads should not be elevated while driving, other than high enough to clear any curbs or obstacles. Traveling with a raised load can be dangerous because it increases the risk of a tip-over accident.

On ramps and other inclines, the forklift should be driven forward while going up the ramp and in reverse when going down the ramp to help prevent the load from spilling.


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