How to Operate a Forklift Machine Safely

Learning to operate a forklift requires driver certification to make sure you know and understand safe driving procedures. Because forklifts carry extremely heavy loads, a small mistake can be fatal as there is no way you can stop a falling load. The top two causes of death operating a forklift are when the forklift overturns or when someone is struck or pinned by a moving forklift.

How to operate a fork lift truck
Image source: Atlantic Training

Since forklifts follow the rules of physics it is extremely important to know and understand the type of forklift you are operating and how they counterbalance the loads they are carrying. As you can see in the picture above, a forklift is one large cantilever by having a considerable amount of weight in the back to counter weigh the load in the front. Just like a teeter totter on the playground.

Every forklift has a capacity plate that tells the driver the maximum load the forklift can handle. Going beyond that number can increase your chance of tipping and injury.

Below are the various classes of forklifts.

  • Class 1: Electric Motor, Rider, Counter-Balanced Trucks (solid and pneumatic tires)
  • Class 2: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks (solid tires)
  • Class 3: Electric Motor Hand Trucks or Hand/Rider Trucks (solid tires)
  • Class 4: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (solid tires)
  • Class 5: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (pneumatic tires)
  • Class 6: Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors (solid and pneumatic tires). There are no forklifts in this class.
  • Class 7: Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks (pneumatic tires)

Pre-operation forklift check

  • Walk around the forklift and look for leaks and wear
  • Check the forks and make sure they are secure
  • Check the horn to make sure it works
  • Check tire air pressure if applicable
  • Turn on the forklift and test the lift controls and brakes

Pre-operation load check

  • Before you lift the load, do a mental run through of your lift and travel. Do you have enough clear space to maneuver the load? Can the forklift handle the load capacity even when lifted above your head?
  • Make sure the load is secure to the palette and that there is nothing hanging off from the sides.
  • Look at the ground you are covering to see if it is safe to travel over. Is there debris, cracks, cables, water, or obstructions?
  • Make sure everyone is aware you are operating and they know your intentions.

Lifting the load and driving

  • Start the engine,  secure your seat belt, and honk your horn a few times to warn people your starting to move a load.
  • Unlike a car, forklifts steer using the rear wheels. This causes the rear end to swing out and requires plenty of clearance space to maneuver. The rear steering also makes it less responsive than a car and harder to stop.
  • When driving on an incline, always have the forks pointed towards the top of the hill. This will prevent tipping or the load sliding off the forks.
  • Lift the load with the forks just enough to clear the ground and tilt the forks towards you. This will pull the weight to the front wheels and make things more stable.
  • In the event of a tip, lean in towards the front wheels and do not jump from the forklift. It is very common for drivers to jump and then get pinned by the overhead cage causing injury and death.

Load placement and forklift parking

  • Move squarely into the position you are going to place the load.
  • Slowly lower the load and then tilt the forks down so the front end of the load touches the platform.
  • At the same time, slowly back away and lower your forks so they slide out from under the palette. Try and avoid slamming the load with a smooth release.
  • Turn off the engine and park the forklift in a safe position with the forks squarely on the ground.

How to operate a forklift PDF guides

The two PDF files below offer a lot more information on how to operate a forklift safely.

how to operate forklift forklift safety pdf

how to operate forklift forklift operator handbook pdf

Forklift operator safety videos

Sharpen Your Driving Skills with These Online Forklift Games

Below is a small collection free online forklift games to help you practice moving freight and follow proper safety rules. You might have some fun along the way too.

Truck Loader 2

This doesn’t necessary qualify itself as a forklift, but it does have the loading part down. Move the boxes into the truck without breaking any boxes or crashing the loader.


forklift games online truck loader

Fork Lift 2

First of all, this game is a little goofy with the graphics and the music. I recommend turning down your speakers so that you can focus on the gameplay because it is worth it. You start out on foot and have to find your way through the level flipping switches, moving boxes, and using a forklift to place boxes in the right spot. A really fun game.

forklift games online fork lift planet

Wallace & Gromit Top Bun

Have you ever wanted to use a forklift to bake bread? Well, now is your chance. This came has you bake bread and load the finished goods into the truck. Wallace patiently waits for you to do your job and times your efforts.

forklift games online wallace gromit top bun

Fork Lift Frenzy 2

This forklift game does a great job simulating operator safety and driving precision. Be warned, if you crash it plays a loud sound. When I crashed for the first time I almost jumped out of my chair.

forklift games online fork lift frenzy