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.
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.
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.