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Safety Tips For Driving a Forklift

Terry Kerr

Forklift Safety Tips and Tricks

Driving a forklift is nothing like driving a car. True, it has brake and acceleration pedals as well as a steering wheel or tiller, but many of the levers and controls are counterintuitive. You need to pass forklift theory training and a practical test to operate a forklift, and even if you receive certification, you’re still at risk of causing injury to yourself, to others, and the environment around you.

According to OSHA statistics, 39 forklift accidents resulted in fatalities between Oct 2013 and Aug 2014 alone. Many more accidents happen each year that cause serious injury and property damage. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) surmises that workers and employers may not be aware of the risks and that they are not following safety procedure guidelines.

To help you avoid becoming another statistic, keep the following forklift safety tips and tricks in mind.

Avoid Injury to Yourself

Many forklifts come with additional safety features to reduce risk of accident and injury. For example, some forklifts come with System of Active Stability (SAS) technology which electronically detects instability and engages appropriate controllers. However, these safety measures do little to help you if you neglect or ignore them.

Here’s how to make the most of your forklift’s safety features and reduce risk of personal injury:

  • Drive slowly with your load tilted slightly back and low to the ground.
  • Make sure your load is within the forklift capacity.
  • Stop your forklift completely before raising or lowering your load.
  • Avoid sharp turns and make sure the load is stable and secure at all times.
  • Wear protective equipment and keep arms and legs inside the vehicle.
  • Enter/Exit facing the cab using the “3” Point System
  • Do not jump from an overturning forklift. Remain in cab, brace, feet apart, two hands on steering wheel, lean in the opposite direction.
  • Be aware of load height, mast, and overhead guard when entering or exiting buildings.
  • Steer clear of any bumps, uneven surfaces, and slippery conditions.
  • Make sure you have enough space to slowly come to a stop.

And, of course, don’t forget to use the seat belt! It’s your best defense if your vehicle ever turns over. If your older forklift does not have a seatbelt, retrofit the forklift with a restraint system.

Avoid Injury to Others

While you may feel safe and protected in your forklift, you pose a risk to those around you. Many forklift accidents occur when the forklift strikes another worker. If you’re driving with a particularly large load, you might have limited visibility, so it’s important to take extra precaution in the workplace.

  • Make eye contact with pedestrians before proceeding.
  • Always heed the right of way to pedestrians.
  • Never allow anyone to walk underneath a raised load.
  • Stop at all blind corners to check for pedestrians and other forklifts. Honk your horn before you proceed.
  • If carrying a tall load, drive in reverse and turn your head to maximize your field of vision.
  • Never drive your forklift behind a person who is unaware of the forklift.
  • Do not allow passengers to ride on the forklift unless a seat (with a seatbelt) is available.
  • Do not use the forklift to elevate workers standing on the forks.

When operating a forklift in a busy area, always remain aware and alert for the unexpected. If necessary, have a fellow employee check your blind spots from a safe distance.

Avoid Injury to the Equipment

While forklifts can’t be “injured” per se, they can be damaged. If you use your forklift incorrectly, it could cost you hundreds of dollars to repair or replace the damaged parts. Or, depending on the severity of the damage, you might have to purchase an entirely new forklift.

Furthermore, you may damage the equipment around you. Some pallet racking and shelving comes with rack protectors that improve their durability, but they’re not invincible. Improper forklift use could potentially cost you even more money in damaged goods.

Here’s what you can do to keep your equipment in good shape:

  • Keep a safe distance from other forklifts – aim for about 3 vehicle lengths.
  • Keep the load on the uphill side of the incline. If necessary, drive backward when doing down the incline.
  • Use restraining rails, chains, and belts to ensure loads are stable during changes in acceleration.
  • Do not drive to another location with the platform elevated.
  • Carefully inspect the forklift before operating. Make sure brakes, steering, and control mechanisms are working properly.
  • Avoid open dock areas.
  • Make sure bridge plates can support the forklift and load weight. If in doubt, don’t operate on bridge plates.
  • Stack loads so they are secure and stable, positioned across both forks.
  • If you cannot see racking clearly, have someone assist you to correctly position your load.
  • Only refuel forklifts at specially designated, well-ventilated locations.

Stay Safe!

While these tips can help you stay safe while driving a forklift, it’s important that you receive proper hands-on training regarding forklift safety. Plenty of comprehensive training programs are available to ensure that you are compliant with OSHA rules and regulations. Stay current with forklift safety by attending one of these programs.