How to Operate a Forklift Safely: The Only Guide You Need to Read

Did you ever play racing videogames as a kid? If you did then you may have developed an enthusiasm for cars and vehicles. Later in life, you may have been to a factory or warehouse and you will no doubt have seen forklifts whizzing around and wondered how to operate a forklift.

You might think that this is a great career and that driving a forklift is a great launchpad for driving other big vehicles professionally in time to come.

But driving a forklift is no easy task and requires patience and a steady hand. Here’s what you need to know.

Get Qualified in Health and Safety

The first thing you need to do before you set foot in a forklift for the first time or begin applying for jobs to operate one is get the right qualifications.

The United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lists the requirements needed to drive a forklift. This includes mandatory safety training about driving a forklift.

It is important and mandatory under the law that everyone involved in operating a forklift understands the risks and dangers involved. It is important to appreciate that people can die as a result of a forklift getting out of control.

Inspection Routine

OSHA also makes it the law that every forklift must be inspected daily before it is put to use. If workers are using the forklift a lot then this increases from once a day to once every shift.

The inspection is divided into two parts, an inspection when the engine is turned off and the forklift is motionless and an inspection when it is in motion and operation,

Standstill Inspection

Before the engine is turned on or the keys are put into the ignition there are a number of things that must be checked. These include checking the oil, hydraulic fluid and water levels.

Then you need to look for any potential damage. Are the hydraulic hoses and mast chains cracked, leaking or defective in any way? If this is the case then you need to address these problems. 

Other things to look for include the tire pressure and their overall condition as well as checking the forks, loaded backrest extension and finger guards. 

It’s also important that you check the forklift as an instruction manual in the forklift. Ensure that it is legible and that none of the pages are damaged or torn out. This is so that should the driver encounter a problem or an emergency he or she can quickly access the information they need to solve the problem.

Nameplates and safety decals must also be correct and legible. They must match the model numbers and service numbers of the forklift.

Check that the driver area is clean and is clear of any obstructions so that the driver can drive without fear of injury.

Finally check the safety belt to ensure that it is operational and will be able to keep the driver safe in the event of a quick stop or emergency.

Electric Forklift Checks

If you have an electric forklift then you need to carry out additional checks before you start it.

Ensure that the battery is in working order and that the cables aren’t damaged or worn. Replace them if they are.

Finally, be sure to check the electrolyte levels but always wear appropriate equipment when carrying this out and to seek advice from your supervisor to see how to carry this out properly.

Electrick forklifts are just one example of how technology is changing the forklift industry and UX is another making forklifts safer to drive than ever before.

In Motion Inspection

You must now check the forklift when it’s in motion. This is more dangerous than the standstill inspection as the engine will be running but it is even more important.

It is much the same as a conventional car or motorbike you need to check that the brakes are working correctly. Other things to look out for are the steering, tilt control, drive control, the horn, lights and the hour meter to ensure you don’t go over the legal driving limit.

Starting the Fork Lift Safely

Now that you have inspected the forklift you are ready to begin driving. After checking that there is nothing behind you or to your left or right that could obscure you, you can begin to proceed.

You might want to consider starting out with a forklift that uses a cantilever racking system, known for its safety and precision.

Drive slowly and remember that unlike a car the forklift won’t react as fast so you need to give yourself time to navigate any potential obstacle and break or slow down. Be extra vigilant when it is raining to avoid the forklift slipping over.

Remember that practice makes perfect and the more times you operate the forklift the better you will become at handling it.

How to Operate a Forklift? Be Careful and Inspect it Regularly

If you want to know how to operate a forklift then the number 1 tip is to check it regularly to ensure that it is safe to operate and nothing goes wrong when you get behind the wheel.

Drive slowly and carefully to avoid accidents and always be careful to be on the lookout for obstacles that could endanger you or anyone in the vicinity of the forklift.

You also need to take a mandatory health and safety course in forklift driving to satisfy the requirements of the OSHA.

So long as you pay attention and listen to instructions given to you by your supervisor as well as being aware of the law, you will be fine.

If you are interested in reading more about driving a forklift then be sure to check out the rest of our blog.

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.