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Driving a forklift isn’t all that complicated. It’s a lot like driving a car — as long as that car weighed more than 9,000 pounds and had the ability to lift 2,000 to 4,000 pounds high up into the air.
Anyone familiar with the driver’s seat of a car will find a lot to recognize behind the wheel of a forklift. There’s the steering wheel, the gas pedal, and even a horn. But there’s also levers, buttons, and other devices most veteran automobile drivers probably wouldn’t recognize.
People who know how to drive a car have an advantage over non-drivers when it comes to learning how to drive a forklift. But as in any new task, proficiency comes with practice. And learning how to drive a forklift properly can take days, or even weeks, of training, practice, and on-the-job experience.
Forklift Driving — Practice, Practice, Practice
Some experts estimate it takes about 20 hours to learn a new task. But it can take up to 10,000 hours to become an expert. While that may seem excessive for forklift driving, the simple fact remains that the more time you spend behind the wheel, the more developed your skills become.
Unfortunately, many workplaces are so desperate for forklift operators that they will put new drivers on the job before they are 100% ready. And when inexperienced operators are driving heavy machinery with tons of lifting capacity, the results can be dangerous — even deadly.
Learning how to drive a forklift takes time, even for people who already know the mechanics of driving a car. Lifting pallets or other materials high overhead and setting them gently on upper shelves is a nuanced skill. Even simple tasks like picking up a pallet from the back of a flatbed truck or rail car and moving it to a dock require care, patience, and — most importantly — repetitive experience. One small slip and the pallet can be dropped, products can be lost, or worse yet the entire forklift can tip or fall off an elevated surface.
Forklift Driving — Proper Forklift Driving
Sophisticated virtual reality programs are available that can develop the muscle memory needed to drive a forklift properly. But unless you are actually sitting behind the wheel and feeling the vibrations of the engine, the floor beneath your wheels, and the delicate touch of the forks on a palletized load, you aren’t getting the full experience.
Requiring new forklift operators to pass minimal proficiency tests is only the first step in training a conscientious, responsible forklift operator. Business owners need to give people time to develop their skill sets and master the intricacies of safe, proper forklift driving before they are thrown into the mix of a busy warehouse, dock, or other materials handling operation.