Operating the Forklift
The back wheels of the forklift do the turning.
In a car or truck, the front wheels steer the vehicle. However, a forklift has the steering wheels in the rear end of the forklift so it can swing in a circle around the front wheels that
support most of the load. This allows the forklift to rotate the load into the correct position.
The operator must check that there is room for the rear end to swing when making turns. This clearance can be maintained in your workplace by permanently marking aisles with painted lines
or arranging storage racks in a way that creates obvious aisles for travel. However, these marked aisles will only be effective if you keep them clear of stored materials, which can gradually
encroach as space is needed.
A forklift is not as responsive as a car when turning the steering wheel. Rear steering makes it difficult to stop a forklift quickly or swerve and still maintain control. As a result,
it is important not to drive a forklift fast or round corners quickly.
Make sure you have adequate clearances when operating a forklift.
Workplace surface and overhead conditions are an important part of safe lift truck operation. Operating surfaces must be strong enough to support the forklift, its load and its operator. They
must also be free of holes, grease, oil or obstructions that could cause the lift truck to skid, bounce, and/or possibly tip over.
Workplace surface and overhead conditions and factors to consider when traveling include:
- Slippery Conditions: There is a danger of skidding when traveling on oil, grease, water or other spills. A forklift could tip over when traveling on ice, snow, mud,
gravel and uneven areas.
- Obstructions and Uneven Surfaces: There is a danger of tip over when traveling over obstructions, holes and bumps.
- Floor Loading Limits: There is a danger of the floor collapsing if it’s unable to support the weight of the forklift, load, and operator.
- Overhead Clearance: There is a chance of damage to lights, stacks, doors, sprinklers and pipes. Damage to the load may also occur, and the forklift may tip over when
traveling and hitting an
Careful forklift inspection by competent persons is required.
The forklift should be checked for defects before initial use, usually by the operator before beginning a work shift. If someone else has used the forklift during a shift, it’s a good idea to
check it for defects again.
Even if you operate a forklift safely, a defect can cause or contribute to a serious accident. Any defects that would affect safety must be corrected before the forklift is returned to service.
Look at the following items for things to look for during an inspection:
Precautions and best practices while traveling in a forklift include:
When loaded keep forks on the uphill side. When not loaded, keep forks downhill.
(click to enlarge)
Driving on Ramps and Grades
Forklift operators should follow certain general rules of the road when traveling on ramps and other inclines. Traveling up and down ramps and grades can be quite dangerous because the forklift can
more easily tip over. Be sure to follow these safety practices when operating the forklift on ramps and grades:
- Always look in the direction of travel.
- Never turn on a ramp or incline. Turn prior to the ramp or incline to place forks in proper direction.
- Keep a safe distance from the edge of a ramp.
- Do not travel on ramps with slopes or other conditions that exceed the manufacturer's recommendation.
- When traveling with a load, the load should point up the incline, regardless of direction of travel.
- When traveling without a load, the forks should point downgrade, regardless of direction of travel.
Click to see what happens when the truck is not chocked.
Driving onto Trucks, Trailers, and Railroad Cars
Forklifts are often driven onto trucks, trailers, or railroad cars over a dock board (also known as a bridge plate) at loading docks. If the truck, trailer or car is not secured to the dock or otherwise
chocked, it may move forward. The dock board can then fall between the trailer and the dock as the forklift crosses it.
You can secure wheel chocks with chains at each loading dock bay and tell truck drivers that they must place them in front of the rear wheels. Another way of securing the trailer is to use a vehicle
restraint system mounted to the dock that clamps onto a bar below the trailer as it backs into place. This system will signal when the restraint is engaged or if there is a problem.
The pavement at some loading docks slopes downhill toward the loading dock. This is not a substitute for chocking wheels.
Driving onto Trucks, Trailers, and Railroad Cars (Continued)
This forklift operator is using a spotter to load into a truck.
Sometimes a trailer is left at a loading dock without the tractor attached. Use trailer jacks to prevent the trailer from up-ending when a forklift drives to the front of the trailer to load or unload.
Here are some additional loading and unloading procedures:
Loading and Unloading the Forklift
Because of the wide variety of equipment used and the different kinds of stock and materials handled, each company must form additional rules for loading and unloading to fit the needs of its facilities. Know the maximum load that each truck can carry safely; do not overload it. An overloaded truck will not operate in a safe manner.
Answer the following questions and check the load before you pick it up.
- Is it stable or will parts slide or fall during transit? Secure it as necessary.
- Do the dimensions and weight of the load fall within the capacity rating of the forklift at the highest elevation and maximum extension you will handle the load? If not, can you break the load into smaller parts?
When you pick up the load:
Note how the load is tilted slightly backward for stability.
- Move squarely into position in front of the load.
- Make sure your view is not obstructed.
- Do not permit anyone to stand under or too close to a load that is being hoisted or lowered.
- Position the forks wide apart to keep the load balanced.
- Drive the forks fully under the load.
- Tilt the mast backward slightly to stabilize the load and lift. Check the destination before you place the load.
Loading and Unloading the Forklift (Continued)
When unloading, be sure to check platforms to make sure they are adequate.
Check out the destination:
- Is the destination flat and stable—or, will the load rock, tilt or lean?
- Never place heavy loads on top of light loads.
- Observe maximum stacking quantities and orientation if printed on cartons.
- Do you know the load bearing capacity of your rack or storage loft destination?
- Are rack legs or support members bent or disconnected? The load bearing capacity of a damaged rack is unknown. Wait until the damaged component has been replaced before loading.
- Are racks arranged back to back with a stock behind where you will place the load? Someone may need to be in the next aisle to control access while you place the load.
- Are wooden stringers or decking laid between front and rear rack beams in good condition? They may support the load if the pallet is not properly placed on both front and rear rails.
- If you are stacking, are other pallets in the stack in good condition and capable of supporting the load in addition to what they are already supporting?
Move slowly and carefully into position to unload.
Loading and Unloading the Forklift (Continued)
When you place the load at its destination:
- Move squarely into position in front of the rack or stack where the load will be placed.
- When ready to place the load, tilt the mast to level. Only tilt forward when the load is over the spot where it will be placed.
- Lower the forks and back away.
- Visually verify that the load is stable.
Leaving a Forklift Unattended
Do not leave the forklift unattended.
A forklift is considered to be unattended when it is not in view of the operator or if it is in view, the operator is 25 feet or more away.
If you leave a forklift unattended:
- Select a secure location on level ground.
- Set the brakes.
- Set the controls to neutral.
- Tilt the forks forward and lower them to the ground.
- Turn off the power and remove the key.
- If the forklift is parked on an incline, block the wheels.
- If you dismount a forklift and stay within 25 feet, you must at least lower the forks to the ground, set the controls to neutral, and set the brakes.
Lifting and Lowering People
Lifting or lowering a person on forks or a pallet can result in a fall injury or fingers caught in moving parts of the mast.
This is an imminent danger situation. NEVER do this.
No worker should be allowed to be lifted while standing on the forks or on a pallet lifted by the forks. The image to the right is a good example of what should never be done. These workers in the
photo are lucky they did not get hurt or killed.
If you want to use a forklift to raise an employee to an elevated position, use a platform or structure specifically built for this purpose that meets the conditions described below.
- The platform must have standard guardrails which include a top rail 36” to 42” above the platform (39” to 45” on a construction site), midrail and toeboard. It must also prevent contact
with chains and shear points on the mast. See the illustration for an example.
- The platform must be securely attached to the forks such as by a clamp or chain.
- Check with the forklift manufacturer to verify that the hydraulic system will not allow the lift mechanism to drop faster than 135 feet per minute in the event of a system failure. Identify
the forklift as approved for use with the platform.
- Lock or secure the tilt control to prevent the boom from tilting.
- A forklift operator must be at the normal operating position when lifting and lowering the platform. The operator must be near the forklift while a worker is elevated.
- Except to inch forward/backward or maneuver at low speeds, do not move the forklift between two points when a worker is on the platform.
Order picker forklifts are designed to allow the operator to be lifted along with the controls to an elevated location. However, if the operator station does not have standard guardrails
on all open sides, then the operator must wear a full body harness with lanyard attached to a manufacturer approved anchor.
Make sure isles are free from obstruction and clearly marked.
The first step to prevent powered industrial truck accidents in a facility is to establish a traffic pattern. This is management’s responsibility.
Management must ensure:
- Aisles are well-lighted and free from obstructions.
- Floors are sound and in good shape. Wet, oily or icy surfaces should be avoided. Clean them up as soon as possible.
- Aisles are marked clearly. When they are wide enough for two trucks to pass each other, the center of the aisle and the two extreme edges should be marked with painted lines. In some plants,
the aisles are wide enough for two truck lanes and a pedestrian lane.
- Do not allow for two trucks to run side by side in the same direction.
- A truck must never pass another truck at an intersection, blind spot or other dangerous location. In areas where there is high concentration of truck traffic, it may be best to have one-way aisles.
- Speed limits are set and strictly enforced. A few speed limit signs at strategic points serve as constant reminders to truck operations.
- Prominently display stop signs at all crossings. These may be regular stop signs or signs painted or set into the floor. You can also use stripes and discs as indicators.
- Each plant must set up its own rules regarding traffic control, but a required four-way stop at every intersection is a wise way to avoid collisions. Plants that have adopted the four-way stop
requirements have found that no significant time is lost by this extra precautionary measure.
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