Facilities Management

Forklift Operator Safety Guide

  1. Required
    1. Read General Safety Rules
    2. View Proper Lifting Powerpoint presentation
    3. View Proper Ladder Safety Powerpoint presentation
    4. Work shoes / boots
    5. Hazard Communications / Right to Know Training
  2. Recommended
    1. Standard First Aid and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
    2. View Lockout / Tagout presentation
    3. Safety shoes / boots
  3. Always Remember
    1. Inspect your vehicle before driving for broken glass, oil leaks, gasoline leaks, or vehicle damage. Report all problems.
    2. Make sure all lights and the horn are in good condition
    3. When operating a university vehicle, you must wear your lap and shoulder belts.
    4. When the heater or air conditioner is in use, crack one or two windows to reduce carbon monoxide hazards.
    5. Obey all speed limit and traffic laws.
    6. When backing look over right shoulder or use each outside mirror. If unsure of a clear path, have someone guide you.
    7. If the vehicle is equipped with a power lift, it should only be used by trained operators and only if it is in good operating condition.
    8. When lowering a power lift, make sure feet are clear.
    9. Ensure that all cargo is secure so it will not shift.
    10. When parked on a street, use four way flashers
    11. Only authorized university personnel may ride in a university vehicle.
    12. Alcohol and other controlled substances must never be used.
    13. Prescription and over the counter medicine should be used with care. They may cause drowsiness or other side effects.
    14. Check for on-coming traffic before exiting or entering a vehicle.
    15. Be a defensive driver.

A forklift is a powerful tool that allows one person to precisely lift and place large heavy loads with little effort. Using a tool such as a forklift, cart or hand truck instead of lifting or carrying items by hand can reduce the risk that you will suffer a back injury. However there is great risk of injury or death when a forklift operator:

  • Has not been trained in the principles of physics that allows it to lift heavy loads
  • Is not familiar with how a particular forklift operates
  • Operates the forklift carelessly
  • Uses a forklift that is not safe due to malfunctioning or missing parts

Every year nearly 100 workers are killed and 20,000 are seriously injured in forklift mishaps. According to the National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities (NTOF) Surveillance System 1530 field from forklift related accidents between 1980 and 2001. At least 22% of these deaths were caused by forklift overturns and another 20% to workers on foot being struck by the forklift. With well over one million forklifts in operation today, emphasis must be placed on both worker and pedestrian safety.

A forklift is a type of “powered industrial truck” covered by OSHA standards. Like other powered industrial trucks, its purpose is to move carry,  push, pull, and lift a material load then stack it or place it in a storage rack (tier). Forklifts come in many sizes and capacities. They can be powered by batteries, propane, gasoline or diesel fuel.

Our type of forklift at the Western Illinois University physical plant is a sit down rider type with the forklift that has a counterbalance in the rear. OSHA standards require that the employer ensure that forklift operator is competent to operate the forklift he or she is assigned to use. WIU Physical Plant will document operator training and an evaluation of the operator’s performance while using the forklift.

Driving a forklift is different than driving a car. In a car or truck the front wheels steer the vehicle. The rear end of the forklift swings in a circle around the front wheels that support most of the load. The operator must check that there is room for the rear end to swing when making turns. This clearance can be maintained in your workplace by permanently making aisles with painted lines or arranging storage racks in a way that creates obvious aisles of travel. However, these marked aisles will only be effective if you keep them clear or stored materials, which can gradually encroach as space is needed.

A forklift in not as responsive as a car when turning the steering wheel. Rear steering makes it difficult to stop a forklift quickly or swerve and still maintain control. It is important, then not to drive a forklift fast or round corners quickly.

Driving with the load downhill can result in loss of the load and control of the forklift. If you drive a forklift on an incline, you must keep the load on the uphill side. Otherwise, you may have no weight on the wheels that steer and can lose control. The load could also fall off or cause the forklift to tip.

Often a large forklift load obstructs the driver’s view in one direction. It may be necessary to travel long distances with the load to the rear in reverse for most forklifts.

Operator restraints will hold you in the seat if you strike an object or if the forklift overturns. The powered industrial truck safe practice of wearing a seat belt adheres to manufacturer’s recommendations. If your forklift begins to overturn,  you are safest when you stay in the seat, hold on firmly, and lean the direction of the fall rather than trying to jump. Many fatal accidents happened when the operator tried to jump. As the forklift begins to tip, it will move slowly, tricking the operator into believing there is time to jump. Once the center of gravity is past the wheel line, the forklift will rapidly fall. The forklift’s overhead guard will quickly pin or crush a jumping operator.

A forklift is counterbalanced and operates on a teeter totter principle. A load on a beam (the forks) supported by a fulcrum (the front wheels) is counterbalanced by a weight on the other end of the beam (the forklift body and counterweight built into it.)

Forklifts are designed and manufactured deliberately unbalanced. The load of the forks must be balanced by the weight of the lift truck in order for this principle to work. We need a proper load to balance our teeter totter. You balance at both ends. A properly loaded lift truck does not exceed the rated capacity  of the truck as listed on the trucks data plate.

Whether a forklift will safely carry a load or will tip forward can be determined by comparing the moment (a tendency to produce motion) of both the load and the forklift. Moment equals the distance from the fulcrum to the center of gravity (the point where all the weight is concentrated) times the weight.

Forklifts have a stability triangle. The sides of the triangle are formed by the center of each front wheel and the center of the rear wheel or at the center of the axle if there are two rear wheels. A vertical line extending from the center of gravity of the vehicle-load combination must be inside of the stability triangle to prevent the forklift from tipping forward, falling sideways or dropping its load.

Safely Using a Forklift by a pre-use inspection. The forklift must be checked for defects daily usually by the operator before beginning shift. Even if you operate a forklift, a defect can cause or contribute to a serious accident. Some things to look for:

  • Is the horn working? Sound the horn at intersections and wherever vision is obstructed.
  • Are there hydraulic leaks in the mast or elsewhere? These could cause slipping hazards or lead to hydraulic failure.
  • Is there a lot of lint, grease, oil or other material on the forklift that could catch on fire?
  • Does the engine show signs of overheating?
  • Do all controls such as lift, lower, and tilt work smoothly? Are they labeled?
  • Is there any deformation or cracks in the forks, mast, overhead guard, or backrest?
  • Are lights operating if used a night or in dark locations?
  • Is steering responsive? A lot of play or hard steering will reduce your control.
  • Do brakes stop smoothly and reliably? Sudden stops can cause tipping.
  • Does the parking brake hold the forklift on an incline?
  • Are seat belts working and accessible?
  • Is the load capacity plate readable?

Trucks must be removed from service when found to be in need of repair, defective, other otherwise unsafe. Any defects that would affect safety must be corrected before the forklift is returned to service.

Surface condition, the surface a forklift operates on can cause serious safety concerns. Loose objects, bumps, or depressions can cause you to lose control of steering, bring you to a sudden unplanned stop or cause you to drop your load. A soft dirt surface can cause a wheel to sink and destabilize an elevated load and the forklift. Any surface a forklift drives on must be able to support the forklift and its load with a safety factor of four.

The basic rule for traveling is that you maintain control of your forklift at all times. Always look in the direction of travel and keep a clear view of the travel path. Travel in reverse if the load blocks your view.

Failure to secure truck or trailer with blocks can cause the trailer to move resulting in the forklift falling between the trailer and the dock. Chock the rear wheel of trucks and trailers to prevent movement away from the dock.

When you pick up the load ensure the load does not exceed the forklifts capacity. Check the destination before you place the load. Ask is the destination flat and stable or will the load rock, tilt or lean. When you place the load at its destination move squarely into position in front of the rack or stack where the load will be placed.

Leaving a forklift unattended a forklift is considered to be unattended when it is not in view, the operator is 25 feet or more away. If you leave a forklift unattended, lower the forks to the ground. Set the controls to neutral, turn off the power and set the brakes. If the forklift is on an incline, block the wheels.

Do not alter or eliminate any forklift parts or add any forklift parts or add any accessories such as additional counterweight or lifting attachments unless approved by the manufacturer in writing. Make any necessary changes to the load capacity plate and operating instructions.

In summarizing a forklift is a powerful tool when used by a well trained operator. It helps to move materials and can reduce the risk of back injury by eliminating the need to lift and carry items by hand. However, the deaths of nearly 100 workers and 20,000 serious injuries that occur each year show that a forklift can be dangerous.

To prevent your workplace from adding to these statistics:

  • Use the appropriate forklift and attachments based on the driving location, size of load, and potential for hazardous atmosphere.
  • Make sure that forklift operators are given formal instruction, hands on training and periodic evaluation.
  • Observe forklift operators in their daily work and take prompt corrective action to correct careless or unsafe operations.
  • Maintain forklifts in safe condition free of defective or missing parts through daily visual checks and regular preventive maintenance.