forklift operationForklift operation is a day-to-day process in many companies and organizations. It is an inevitable part to run a business process.

Forklift operation looks basic and simple. But, according to the statistics, accidents involving forklifts has exploded to almost 35,000 injuries and hundred of fatalities each year.

This is why laws and regulations are in placed to safeguard the workers, because regrettably, not all employers adheres the safe practices.

It has associated risks and dangers. The operators are playing a very vital role in the mitigation of these risks. The forklift operators should know the “do's” and “don’ts” of forklift operation.

Forklift operation should be given priority in every workplace. Best practices should be included in the organization's safety procedure. To mitigate the dangers, forklift operators should know these best safety and unsafe practices:

Forklift Operation Safe Work Procedure: The “Dos”

  • Only trained and certified forklift operators are allowed to operate powered industrial truck such as forklift as stated in the OSHA 29 CFR 1910.178 standard. If you haven't had the knowledge in operating forklift, leave it and never even try to even start it.

  • During operation, whenever there are loads to pick up, operators should always check the maximum lifting capacity of the truck. The rated capacity of the forklift is indicated on the dataplate. If the goods or merchandise is too heavy, it should be broken down into smaller and more manageable loads so that it is below the truck's capacity and to ease the transport of the loads.

  • Pre-inspection should be performed during every shift. Check the tires, electrical, fluids levels, lifting mechanisms, if defect and discrepancy are detected, it should be reported to the superior for proper corrective action. It is unsafe to operate the forklift, it may not be used until it has been serviced.

  • Forklifts are serious hazards for pedestrians in the workplace. The forklift operators should always adhere to the maximum speed limit and traffic rules in the workplace when traveling. There's a higher chance for pedestrians being hit by a forklift in the warehouse than those cars when on the roads.

  • Maintain safe distance from other forklifts in the workplace when traveling. The safe distance from other forklifts during travel is at least 3 trucks lengths or that is approximately 20 feet away from each other.

  • Slow down when making a turn and on blind spot.

  • During operation, wear the seat belt at all times, it will protect you when a tip over happens. The forklift seat belt serves basically the same protection as your car’s seat belt. Here's an article about seat belt requuirement.

  • Do use the forklifts according to the manufacturer's specification. Do not add extension unless recommended by the manufacturer. In some cases, if you are unsure if an extension adheres to the specification, just to make sure you can contact the forklift supplier and inquire about your concern.

  • Do use the forklift only for the intended use it was designed. Do not use the forklift in other purpose such as lifting other forklifts, for scaffolding purpose, to tow vehicles, and other uses the forklift is not intended for.

Unsafe Practices on Forklift Operation – The “Don’ts”

  • Allowing anyone who is untrained to operate the forklift. It is a recipe for disaster permitting someone who is not trained to use the truck. This is a most common unsafe practice in a workplace. Knowledge and practical skills are necessary prior to forklift operation. Education and certification are required before anyone can put their hands on the controls.

  • Operating a fork truck that is need of repair or maintenance. A machine tagged as "for service" is unsafe to operate. It could breakdown during heavy lifting of loads and during transport. Maintenance checklist should be maintained to monitor the repair history.

  • Leaving the truck unattended while its engine still running. Leaving the forklift unattended even it is shutdown but the key is still in the ignition is a common practice that needs attention. I even heard a debate on this issue, if it unsafe to have the key in the ignition while the forklift is not in use. Here's an article about discussing about parking or leaving an article.

  • Allowing someone to ride the truck to horseplay. Operator must not allow colleagues to ride the truck unless a second seat is fitted for another person.

  • Using the forklift to tow other vehicle is a safety concern. The forklift should not be used in the purpose it is not intended to be. You may heard cases forklifts are being used to push or tow other equipment in the workplace. If it is to be used for that purpose, it is recommended to get a manufacturer's recommendation.

  • There could some rotten tomatoes in the organization. They are the ones who use the forklift as racing cars. Racing the truck is a big safety concern. Report to management if you happen to witness such unsafe act.

  • Coming to work intoxicated or under the influence is big no no, especially if you handling a piece of heavy equipment such as forklift. Forklift is one of the equipment you can see in a warehouse that pose great dangers to everyone. According to statistics, there has been thousands of accidents every year involving forklifts.

  • Not making sure if the load is stable and secure. Forklift operators have to ensure that the load is evenly placed on the forks prior to transport or lifting.

  • Traveling the forklift with its forks still raised. Avoid raising or lowering the forks while the truck is in motion.

  • Traveling with loads obscuring the forward view is a common unsafe practice that needs to be avoided during forklift operation. In a circumstance where you have to transport loads obstructing your view, drive the truck in reverse instead.

  • Overloading is one of the common safety issues during forklift operation. It is also the cause why forklift tip over or over turn. If you aren't sure how much weight the equipment can carry, always check the manufacturer's data plate attached to the machine.

  • Refueling of the forklift anywhere the operator wants to. Refueling should be done in a designated place. Usually, in a workplace, there's designated location where operators can refuel or recharge their trucks.

  • Parking of forklift in undesignated location especially near the exit or entrance is big safety issue that needs attention. The very least you want to have during evacuation emergency is a blocked exit where people cannot go out because the forklift is obstructing it.

Forklift Operation Hazards in the Worksite

Forklift is an indispensable piece of equipment used in the many work environments, would it be in the warehouses or in construction sites. It makes thing a whole lot easier to do. But its use has associated hazards.

  • The age of the forklift is a factor. The forklift basically performs the same as your car. But as it ages, it tends to breakdown. Though, preventive maintenance should be part of the company procedure, but we cannot deny even it is properly maintained, old model forklifts don’t perform as efficient as it is used to be when it was new or younger. Old forklift tends to breakdown frequently, during the middle of a shift when you are transporting or lifting loads. With that, it pose serious hazard.

  • Assigning an operator to operate a forklift he’s not capable of driving is a hazard as well. If an operator is certified to operate a counterbalance but not in reach truck, he’s not allowed to operate the latter. The operational controls and intended uses are very different from each other. The operator must be certified to use these two machines if he intends to operate both.

  • While forklift extensions, also called attachments such as drum, paper and carton clamps, booms and rotators, can increase the versatility of the truck to many uses but it can significantly affect the handling capacity of the truck, and therefore pose hazards to someone who use it during forklift operation. Forklift extension can reduce the operating clearances, rated capacity and stability of the forklift. With that, they can present safety issues during operation. In case you or your company wants to have it installed on your machine, contact the forklift manufacturer to get recommendation first.

  • There are more pedestrians than operators being injured by a forklift. According to the statistics, almost 20% of the number of forklift accidents involves pedestrians. The common causes of pedestrian being hit by a forklift are either they didn’t see/hear the truck approaching or they work in close proximity with the truck. The truck is equipped with backing alarm, strobe lights and horn to warn pedestrians of its location. If in your company happened to have such incidence, forklift awareness can be given to the people to keep them aware of the associated risks working with forklifts around in the workplace. READ this 56 Forklift Safety Tips to Prevent Accident in the Workplace

Creating a Forklift Operation Risk Assessment/Job Safety Analysis

Creating a risk assessment is a great way to identify the hazards and to evaluate and analyze the risks associated with them. Risk assessment is an important safety management plan of the company. It helps to create the awareness of the dangers and risks, know who may be at risk in a certain kind of work operation, and implement safety measures to lessen the amount of risks involved to prevent possible accidents and injuries.

Creating a risk assessment is a straightforward process. The manager is one tasked to create one whenever needed. Here’s a simple steps in creating a risk assessment

  1. Identify the hazards involved in the forklift operation. This is to be done by the manager. To thoroughly identify the hazards, one of the way the manager can do is to conduct a visit in the worksite to note down the activities that may create a dangerous situation when work is being done; he could also talk to the safety officer who may have a record of past incidences or accidents in the worksites; the manager may also converse with union representative or the workers themselves asking what are their concerns regarding health and safety of the workplace. These are the ways in identifying the hazards in the workplace.

  2. The manager will then list down the personnel who could be affected or hurt by the hazards and the possible ways they could be harmed. There could one or many personnel that can be harmed by a particular hazard, the manager should ensure that those personnel are included in the risk assessment.

  3. The manager will then recommend control measures and precautions for each identified hazard. Before the manager can recommend such measures and precautions, he needs to make sure that those are in compliance with the company safety procedures or a government existing regulations. If such measure did not comply with the safety procedure, he then recommends that further actions are required.

  4. The manager then will decide who is responsible in the organization to take further actions and when it should be required. This is to make sure that the findings recognized in the risk assessment are put into action.

  5. When corrective actions are done, the manager then ticks it off in the risk assessment. The manager will also have to include when the correction action was rectified (date).

  6. The manager and the safety representative will discuss about the findings and the corrective actions taken in the risk assessment. They will need to update the risk assessment as frequent as possible to match the details with the current situation of the workplace and especially when there is a major changes ins the work setup.

  7. The manager will distribute copies of the risk assessment to the concerned members of the organization.

To download a risk assessment form, here’s an example.

You Need a License to Operate a Forklift

The license we referred to is actually an operator card. It is given to operator after successful certification. The certification is what you have to take get such a license. This involves taking of the classroom instruction and practical training, and at end the evaluation.

To get certified, your employer is responsible to provide you the necessary training. The company can hire an actual instructor to conduct the training process in the actual workplace or can assign someone from the workforce to perform the forklift training. Here's an article discussing about who is responsible for providing the training.

If you are unemployed or not connected to an employer, you can enroll at the technical school to take the forklift training there. The process is basically the same. If you want to enroll, here the directory of training schools.

The certificate and/or operator card you will receive at the end of the training is what many referred to as the forklift license but actually it is an operator card. The important information that appears on the operator card are your name, type of the training you've undergone, the date when you've taken it, the name of the instructor, the name and address of the company or school that conducted the training.

The license or certificate indicates that the holder has been properly trained and certified to perform forklift operation.

The common misconception of many people is that the license or the certificate has an expiry but actually it doesn't expire. The knowledge and skill you have attained after taking the certification has no expiration. But is annual forklift training required? Here's an article if it is necessary to have it annually.  

You have to get to retake a training course to update your certificate or license. Retraining is required if you haven't operate the forklift for long time and you need to refresh your skill. Retraining is a good tool so that operators can get updated to the latest relevant regulations set forth by authorities such as OSHA.

The licensing or training procedure is almost the same in other countries.

Forklift Safety Rules and Regulations in Different Countries

Applicable Law in the United States

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.178 - Powered Industrial Trucks (PIT)

In the US, OSHA has kept a standard since the year 1971 and throughout the years, they regularly update the standard to keep up with the ever changing necessities in forklift operation safety. But the recent update on the standard stresses out the need for proper training of operator of powered industrial trucks, commonly referred to as the forklifts, but it also covers the pallet and high lift trucks.

The latest update on the standard is the 29 CFR 1910.178 - Powered industrial trucks. It went into effect on March 1, 1999. The latest regulation highlighted the obligation of the employer to ensure that their forklift operators are properly trained and certified prior to the use of the forklifts.

The new regulation also requires that retraining must be given if workers are involved in an accident or in a near miss incident to rectify their behavior. Retraining should also be given when a change occurs in the working environment that could affect the safe forklift operation in the workplace. Refresher must be given to operators who have been observed operating the truck in an unsafe and improper manner, if the operator is assigned to operate different truck he is familiar operating and if the operator has been assessed still unskilled during the certification process.

The new regulation also requires that the training must be composed of classroom and practical training and that performance assessment must be conducted to evaluate the knowledge of the operators in the safe operation of the vehicle.

It has been almost 20 years, the regulation has yet to be updated as of this time.

Related Laws in the UK

Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER)

The PUWER 98 places the burden of the requirements not only to the employers but also to those who use, supervise and manage the use of work equipment.

Work equipment has been described as any machinery appliance, apparatus, tool for use at work. The scope and definition of the work equipment is wide and this includes forklift operation.

Under this regulation, anyone who utilizes work equipment must have proper training in the correct use of it, know the risk of its use and the precaution to take to mitigate the risks.

PUWER intends to make sure that the work equipment is appropriate for its intended use, regularly maintained to ensure safe and secure operation, only be operated by someone who had received proper training, inspected by a suitable competent person.

If you are an employer or a self-employed-individual and you provide work equipment for use in the workplace and if you control of use of the work equipment, PUWER applies to you and you must adhere to its requirements.

For more information about PUWER 98, read this page.

Rider-Operated Lift Trucks: Operator Training and Safe Use, Approved Code Of Practice And Guidance

This is widely known in the industry as L117. This is the Health and Safety Executive’s published guidelines that mandate that safe use of fork truck. The latest revision to the guidelines was in 2013.

The latest version puts more responsibilities to the supervisors and managers but it appears these people still unaware of their responsibilities. The most significant changes on the latest version are as follows:

Refresher training is the first significant change in the latest update. Refresher training is an opportunity for employers to identify different aspects of forklift operation that need improvements and discover lapses for or accident prevention. The latest update on the regulation, emphasizes that need for regular refresher training for a set period of time which can happen every three or five years.

Retest and retraining can be given be given even the set period hasn’t lapsed in circumstances such as incidence of near miss and accident, when there’s change in workplace, when the operators have developed unsafe forklift operation practices, if the operators haven’t use the truck for some time.

The second significant update on the 2013 revision is the supervisor training. It emphasizes the need of supervisor training and is now a requirement. It is important that supervisor has the proper knowledge to recognize the proper and improper work practices of forklift operation which they can also get by having such training. The supervisor training doesn’t mean the same as the operator training, but supervisor must know the risks and dangers involved in forklift operation to prevent accidents.

In summary, the L117 is the ultimate guide for anyone who undertakes forklift operation and involved in material handling business. For the copy of the L117, click here.

To Make a Finalization

Forklift operation should be given top priority!

Almost every activity in the workplace is covered by OSHA regulation and that includes operating forklifts. It has already been reported in the past, hundreds of industrial accidents involve forklifts - many are serious and dozens are fatal.

No wonder, authorities such as OSHA is very stringent in the implementation of their rules and imposition hefty fines. It is imperative for you to know the current guidelines and policies of your government for compliance with the law and for accident prevention.

There is one shared goal - to make sure everyone can home safe and well.


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