Logistics & Materials Handling Blog

20 Tips for Operating a Forklift Safely

by Paul Hinz
Filed under: Forklift Basics

Forklift accidents account for an astonishing number of injuries and fatalities.

This is why it is important to observe all safety procedures that have been implemented by an organisation.

These are not just designed to keep forklift drivers safe, but also for the safety of those who work within the vicinity of them.

Therefore, everyone has a duty of care to follow the guidelines set for workplace health and safety including but not limited to employers, operators and pedestrians.

Safetyculture.com.au states that “the most common failures involve traffic management, maintenance, shifting loads and operator competence.”

Below are some simple tips to follow to ensure safe operation of forklifts. They are a good starting point to support workplace health and safety guidelines.

1. Operators must be qualified

  • Operating forklifts should only be done by individuals who have been trained properly and hold a licence to operate the unit.
  • Where there are learner drivers, there must be appropriate supervision for them.
  • Forklifts should only be operated by drivers who have gone through some form of workplace health and safety training.
  • Do not operate a forklift while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Do not operate a forklift if you are fatigued.

2. Appropriate clothing must be worn.

  • Operators must wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE); usually consisting of steel capped shoes, hi-visibility work wear, glasses and gloves
  • Work wear and PPE must be reasonably fitted as any loose clothing can get caught on machinery.
  • Don’t operate/hold any of the controls when your hands have grease on them; it may cause them to slide off and cause an accident.

3. Examine equipment before use

  • Operators should complete a thorough inspection of the unit before operation, paying close attention to common fault areas including brakes, steering, controls, safety systems, mast and tyres.
  • If there are any noted damages or problems management should be notified and the forklift should be tagged out of operation until repaired.

4. Starting up the forklift

  • For safety purposes it’s important for the operator to make use of the steps and hand grabs to seat when entering the forklift.
  • Before starting the forklift it’s important to ensure all the equipment’s controls are in reach and the seat position and mirrors are adjusted to the operator’s needs.
  • The operator should not start the forklift until they are correctly seated with their safety belt fastened and all parts of their body are safely inside the confines of the operator’s cabin or the forklift.
  • Where it is specified that it is safer not to wear a safety belt, the operator should not wear one. An example is when operating a forklift on a wharf.

5. Consider the surrounding environment

  • Whilst operating a forklift you must pay attention and follow any work site rules and guidelines.
  • The operator must only drive the equipment in the machinery’s designated roadways.
  • Observe all signs, especially those on maximum permitted floor loadings, speed limits and clearance heights.
  • Be aware of the height of the load, mast and overhead guard of the forklift when entering or exiting buildings.
  • Be careful when operating a forklift near the edge of a loading dock or ramp – the forklift can fall over the edge – keep a safe distance from the edge.
  • Do not operate on bridge plates, unless they can support the weight of the forklift and load.

6. Operate at a safe speed

  • Never proceed past the speed limit.
  • Take corners and any turns slowly to minimise risk of tipping.
  • Make any changes in direction or any stops gradually and slowly.

7. Avoid hazards

  • Steer clear of any bumps or uneven ground surfaces along with slippery conditions.
  • Steer clear of loose ground objects which could cause loss of control over the equipment or a load to move around.
  • Use the horn when closing in on a corner or doorway/entrance and around people to alert pedestrians or other forklift operators of your whereabouts to avoid any unnecessary collision.
  • Keep a safe distance from other trucks in case they move in an unpredictable manner.
  • Make sure that you always have enough space to stop safely.

8. Ensure your load is stable and secure

  • Check the loads carefully before moving them for stability and damage.
  • It is important to ensure that the load is tilted back with the forks sitting low whilst transporting in order to increase truck stability.
  • Check for any overhead objects before lifting or stacking loads.
  • Do not lift or move loads that are not safe or stable.
  • Make sure loads are correctly stacked and positioned across both forks.
  • Stack the load on the pallet or skid safely and correctly.
  • Use securing measures such as ropes or bindings if required.

9. Make sure you have clear visibility

  • Operate the forklift in reverse when it improves visibility; except when moving up ramps.
  • It is important to make sure you can see the racking clearly in which you are positioning your load.
  • If visibility is poor do not continue driving; in some circumstances you may need a lookout spotter to for additional guidance.

10. Forklifts are for carrying loads only

  • Operators must not let others ride on the equipment unless another seat is fitted safely to the unit for a second person.
  • If a person has to be lifted, use only a securely attached work platform and cage and follow the appropriate operating instructions.

11. Keep clear of the mast

  • Do not authorise anyone to stand or walk under the load or forklift machinery – The load can fall causing injury or death.
  • Keep hands and feet clear of the cross members of the mast – Serious injury can be caused if the mast is lowered while your hand is on it.

12. Driving on ramps

  • When driving up ramps’ move in a forward direction and down ramps in reverse, especially while carrying loads.
  • Do not load or unload goods or turn whilst on a ramp.

13. Ensure the forklift is not overloaded

  • Do not use the tip of the forks as a lever to raise a heavy load.
  • Do not push a load with the tip of the forks.
  • Know the capacity of your forklift and any attachments being used and never exceed this capacity.
  • Overloading can cause the rear tyres to be raised off the ground and may cause the forklift to tip over.
  • Ensure that there is an established method such as a weight gauge for determining accurate load weights.

14. Ensure the load is evenly distributed

  • Do not lift or move a load unless both forks are fully under the load.
  • Do not lift a load with one fork. Use pallets and skids that can withstand the weight of the load.
  • Do not use damaged, deformed or decayed pallets for holding loads.

15. Make use of a helper when in narrow spaces

  • Ensure that you have a helper to assist you when you are working in narrow spaces. Also, be sure to have some pre-agreed signals with the helper. Always ensure that the helper can be seen and follow the signals that have been agreed on.

16. Refuelling

  • A forklift should only be refuelled at specially designated stations.
  • Switch off the forklift.
  • For IC engine forklifts, no open flame or sparks are permitted, and refuelling should take place in a well-ventilated area.
  • Follow the established safety procedures for refuelling

17. Operating in confined spaces

  • Do not operate a fuel or LP gas powered forklift in confined spaces. Instead, use an electric one to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • If you must use and LP gas-powered or fuel machine, get a catalytic converter fitted to oxidise the carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide, which isn’t as toxic.
  • The carbon monoxide levels should be monitored around workers.

18. Pedestrian safety

  • Always watch out for pedestrians and follow traffic management plans
  • Be sure to pay attention to and follow the two-foot rule when speaking to pedestrians. You must maintain at all times, a distance of two-foot which is the equivalent of an arm’s length whenever you stop to speak to pedestrians.
  • Always make eye contact with the pedestrian, particularly if the person intends to walk close to the vicinity of the forklift. This includes walking past, behind or in front of the forklift you are operating.
  • Don’t forget to use hand signals when communicating with pedestrians. This is an important part of forklift pedestrian safety. Hand signals usually include STOP and GO AHEAD. Wait for pedestrians to wave before you proceed past an intersection.

19. Traffic management

  • Forklifts should always be separated from pedestrians using no-go zones or exclusion.
  • There must always be written plans detailing how the traffic management takes place in the workplace. All parties should be consulted.
  • Loading docks should have safety barriers installed, as well as raised edges, barricades and warning signs.
  • It is important to make sure that the area where the forklift operates is well lit.

20. When the shift ends

  • After use ensure the forklift is parked in a designated or authorised area.
  • Fully lower the forks to the floor and apply the park brake.
  • Turn the forklift “off” and remove the key.
  • Do not leave a forklift running whilst unattended.