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Powered Industrial Trucks and Vehicle Safety

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Powered industrial trucks, commonly called forklifts or lift trucks, are used in many industries, primarily to move materials. They can also be used to raise, lower, or remove large objects or a number of smaller objects on pallets or in boxes, crates, or other containers. Powered industrial trucks can either be ridden by the operator or controlled by a walking operator.

Note: Over-the-road haulage trucks and earth-moving equipment that has been modified to accept forks are not considered powered industrial trucks.



Approximately 100 employees are fatally injured and approximately 95,000 employees are injured every year while operating powered industrial trucks. Forklift turn-over accident accounts for the most significant number of these fatalities.

There are many types of powered industrial trucks. Each type presents different operating hazards. For example, a sit-down, counterbalanced high-lift rider truck is more likely than a motorized hand truck to be involved in a falling load accident because the sit-down rider truck can lift a load much higher than a hand truck.

Accident Factors


Workplace type and conditions are also factors in hazards commonly associated with powered industrial trucks. For example, retail establishments often face greater challenges than other worksites in maintaining pedestrian safety. Beyond that, many workers and others can also be injured in any of the following scenarios:

  • Lift trucks are inadvertently driven off loading docks.
  • Lifts fall between docks and an unsecured trailer.
  • Workers are struck by a lift truck.
  • Workers fall while on elevated pallets and tines.
  • Workers have not been properly educated and trained in the principles of physics that allow a forklift to lift heavy loads.
  • Workers are not familiar with how a particular forklift operates.
  • Workers operate the forklift carelessly.
  • Workers use defective or malfunctioning forklifts.

Forklift Stability


Forklift stability consists of four things:

  1. the fulcrum point
  2. the center of gravity
  3. the stability triangle
  4. load center

On a forklift, the fulcrum point is the location at which front axle and the load is balanced by the weight of the forklift's counterweight and battery (if electric).

A forklift's center of gravity is the point at which all of the weight of the forklift is concentrated and a new center of gravity is created with every load. Imagine you're riding a tricycle—think of it as a triangle on wheels. If you peddle around a corner and shift your center of gravity forward over the front wheel, you'll tip over. If you shift your center of gravity over the rear wheels, you are less likely to tip over.

Factors that cause a forklift to tip forward are:

  • sloping surfaces
  • overloading
  • inappropriate use of attachments
  • traveling down ramps with the load forward
  • heavy braking
  • moving with an elevated mast
  • forward-tilting elevated mast
  • shifting or off-center loads

If the combined center of gravity moves outside of the stability triangle, the forklift tends to tip sideways.

Factors that cause a forklift to tip sideways are:

  • excessive speed while turning
  • turning with an elevated mast
  • sloping surfaces
  • slick surfaces
  • uneven terrain
  • tight turns
  • shifting or off-center loads
  • turning sideways on ramps

Forklift Safety Precautions and Best Practices

To prevent forklift accidents, be sure to follow the guidelines and best practices below:

  • Always use seatbelts when operating a forklift.
  • Do not allow employees to drive or ride in unsafe vehicles.
  • Require employees to report any vehicle-related safety problems.
  • Secure equipment and tools to prevent them from moving in a vehicle or make sure a barrier is in place to protect the passengers.
  • Ensure that vehicles have working horns that can be heard above any surrounding noise.
  • Make sure there is a backup alarm on any vehicle that has an obstructed view to the rear.
  • Make sure the backup alarm can be heard above surrounding noise unless there’s a spotter or it’s certain that no one can enter the danger area.
  • Train and certify all operators to ensure that they operate forklifts safely.
  • Do not allow any employee under 18 years old to operate a forklift.
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  • Properly maintain haulage equipment, including tires.
  • Do not modify or make attachments that affect the capacity and safe operation of the forklift without written approval from the forklift’s manufacturer.
  • Conduct corrective and preventive maintenance in a timely manner.
  • Follow safe operating procedures for picking up, moving, putting down and stacking loads.
  • Do not exceed the 5 mph speed limit, and slowdown in congested or slippery surface areas.
  • Prohibit operator speeding, stunt driving and horseplay. Retrain or discipline as appropriate, and document.
  • Do not handle loads that are heavier than the capacity of the industrial truck.
  • Remove unsafe or defective forklift trucks from service.
  • Do not travel with elevated loads.
  • Assure that a rollover protective structure is in place.
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  • Make certain that the reverse signal alarm is operational and audible above the surrounding noise level.
  • Forklift truck operators demonstrate competence by successful completion of training and evaluation of driving skills.
  • Inspect forklifts before each use for proper condition of brakes, horns, steering, forks and tires.
  • Make sure powered industrial trucks (forklifts) meet American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards.
  • Make sure battery charging is conducted in areas specifically designated for that purpose.
  • Material handling equipment is provided for handling batteries, including conveyors, overhead hoists or equivalent devices.
  • Reinstall and properly position, and secure batteries in the forklift.
  • Do not permit smoking in the battery charging areas.
  • Prevent open flames, sparks or electric arcs in battery charging areas.
  • Provide training as necessary when an operator is assigned to drive a different type of truck.
  • When leaving a forklift unattended, fully lower the load and forks, place controls in neutral position, turn the power off and set the brakes.
  • Make sure there is sufficient headroom for the forklift and operator under overhead installations, lights, pipes, sprinkler systems, etc.
  • Ensure overhead guards are in place to protect the operator against falling objects.

Forklift Training


An untrained operator of a forklift can be as dangerous as an unlicensed operator of a motor vehicle. It is a violation of Federal law for anyone under 18 years of age to operate a forklift or for anyone 18 years of age or older who is not properly trained and certified to do so.

OSHA regulations require that the employer ensures that a forklift operator is competent to operate the forklift he or she is assigned to use. The employer must document operator training and an evaluation of the operator’s performance while using the forklift.

Training has three parts:

  1. formal instruction such as a lecture, discussion, interactive computer learning, videotape and/or written material (can be taken anywhere);
  2. hands-on practical training which includes demonstrations by the trainer and exercises by the trainee (on the model of forklift the worker will use); and
  3. an evaluation of the operator skills by observing the operator’s performance while doing actual work using the forklift. This evaluation must be repeated at least once every three years (must be at workplace).

Refresher may be required if the operator has been involved in an accident, near miss or unsafe operations. Also, if an operator is assigned to a new type of forklift or if workplace conditions change that could affect safety, then refresher training is required.

The topics listed in the table below should be covered when training a forklift operator. If a specific topic does not apply to the forklift in the employer’s workplace, covering it is optional.

Topics related to powered industrial trucks Topics related to your workplace
Operating instructions Surface conditions where the PIT will be operated
Warnings and precautions for the types of PIT the operator will be authorized to operate Composition of loads to be carried and load stability
Differences between the PIT and the automobile Load manipulation, stacking, and un-stacking
PIT controls and instrumentation: Where they are located, what they do, and how they work Pedestrian traffic in areas where the PIT will be operated
Engine or motor operation Narrow aisles and other restricted places where the PIT will be operated
Steering and maneuvering Use of door opening and closing devices
Visibility (including restrictions due to loading) Hazardous (classified) locations where the PIT will be operated
Fork and attachment adaptation, operation, and use limitations Ramps and other sloped surfaces that could affect the PITs stability
PIT capacity Closed environments and other areas where insufficient ventilation or poor PIT maintenance could cause a buildup of carbon monoxide or diesel exhaust
PIT stability Other unique or potentially hazardous environmental conditions in the workplace that could affect safe operation
Any PIT inspection and maintenance that the operator will be required to perform
Charging and recharging of batteries
Operating limitations
Any other operating instructions, warnings, or precautions listed in the operator’s manual for the types of PIT that the employee is being trained to operate

Heavy Vehicle Safety


Using and working around heavy equipment and machinery construction sites can lead to serious injury or death. Construction workers and vehicle operators should not be allowed to handle heavy machinery without proper training. Failing to follow proper safety precautions, hurrying, and a lack of attention are major causes of construction equipment accidents.

Follow the precautions and best practices below to make sure operators and others working around heavy equipment do not get injured or killed.

Make sure all vehicles are equipped with:

  • a service brake system
  • an emergency brake system
  • a parking brake system
  • working headlights, tail lights, and brake lights
  • an audible warning device (horn)
  • intact windshield with working windshield wipers

Here are some other things to keep in mind:

Ensure all operators have been trained on the equipment they will use.

Check vehicles at the beginning of each shift to ensure that the parts, equipment, and accessories are in safe operating condition. Repair or replace any defective parts or equipment prior to use.

Do not operate a vehicle in reverse with an obstructed rear view unless it has a reverse signal alarm capable of being heard above ambient noise levels or a signal observer indicates that it is safe to move.

Keep all workers at a safe distance during heavy equipment operations.

  • Vehicles loaded from the top (e.g., dump trucks) must have cab shields or canopies to protect the operator while loading.
  • Ensure that vehicles used to transport workers have seats, with operable seat belts, firmly secured and adequate for the number of workers to be carried.
  • Equipment should have roll-over protection and protection from falling debris hazards as needed.
  • Prior to permitting construction equipment or vehicles onto an access roadway or grade, verify that the roadway or grade is constructed and maintained to safely accommodate the equipment and vehicles involved.
  • Do not modify the equipment's capacity or safety features without the manufacturer's written approval.
  • Where possible, do not allow debris collection work or other operations involving heavy equipment under overhead lines.

Traffic Control


Traffic controls should conform to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The MUTCD contains the national standards governing all traffic control devices. All public agencies and owners of private roads open to public travel across the nation rely on the MUTCD to bring uniformity to the roadway.

Safety precautions for traffic control workers include all of the following:

  • Provide adequate and appropriate traffic controls for all construction projects on or adjacent to a highway, street, or roadway.
  • Provide signaling by trained and qualified flaggers.
  • Provide barricades for protection of employees.
  • Ensure employees set up appropriate traffic controls when they stop on or are adjacent to a highway, street, or road in a way that creates a hazard and when traffic cannot adjust safely on its own.

Traffic Control Devices


To be effective, a traffic control device should meet five basic requirements:

  1. fulfill a need
  2. command attention
  3. convey a clear, simple meaning
  4. command respect from road users
  5. give adequate time for proper response

High-Visibility Garments


Employees exposed to hazards caused by on-highway type moving vehicles in construction zones and highway traffic should wear highly visible upper body garments.

  • The colors should contrast with other colors in the area to make the worker stand out.
  • Colors should be equivalent to strong red, strong orange, strong yellow, strong yellow-green, or fluorescent versions of these colors.
  • During hours of darkness, the garments must also have reflective material visible from all sides for 1,000 feet.

Real World Accident

A foreman's 15 year-old step-son was tragically killed while the youth was operating a forklift at the warehouse. The victim was being shown how to operate the forklift and was practicing picking up and moving empty pallets. He had just unloaded a pallet in the warehouse and had picked the empty pallet off the floor when he lost control of the forklift. The police investigator stated that the forklift suddenly went backward, crashed open a closed loading bay door and dropped four feet to the ground. The victim fell off and the forklift landed on top of him. The victim was pinned to the ground and sustained massive chest injuries.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Which of the following accounts for the most significant number of forklift fatalities?

2. On a forklift, which of the following is the point at which all of the weight of the forklift is concentrated?

3. You're the worksite supervisor and notice an experienced and trained forklift driver speeding through the worksite, clearly driving too fast. What should you do?

4. It is a violation of Federal law for anyone _____ to operate a forklift who is not properly trained and certified.

5. During hours of darkness, the garments for work in construction zones and highway traffic should have reflective material visible _____.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.