How to Drive a Forklift: Tips for Safe Forklift Operation

Forklift Operation with Industrial Forklift Truck equipment.

Regardless of whether or not you know how to drive a forklift, there's always room for improvement.

Thousands of forklift accidents occur every year. Many of these accidents result in serious injury or death. It's up to both forklift operators and facility managers to prevent these accidents from occurring.

Forklifts can be very dangerous. Plus, crowded worksites pose their own dangers. Unexpected pedestrians, obstacles, low visibility, and other hazards. Understanding how to operate a forklift effectively can help you prepare for these hazards

Check out these guidelines for safe forklift operation. If you operate a forklift frequently, review these forklift tips periodically. If you manage a warehouse, make sure you train your operators on how to drive a forklift using these tips.

Safe Forklift Operation

The Basics

Whether you’re a seasoned operator or are learning how to drive a forklift for the first time, it can't hurt to brush up on the basics. Familiarize yourself with OSHA forklift guidelines. Forklift operation isn't something you just learn once. As technology changes, forklift operation changes. 

Wearing personal protection equipment (PPE) is one of the most basic components of safety. Make sure operators dress appropriately for the work environment. This generally means a hard hat, safety shoes, and a high visibility vest. Loose clothing is discouraged, as it can get caught on machinery.

Preparation is key to success. Before your operators learn how to drive a forklift, teach them how to prepare to drive one. Proper clothing, mental focus, and spatial awareness are just as important as understanding where all the buttons are.

Daily Inspection

Prepare for forklift operation each day with a forklift inspection. This will ensure that your forklift is in safe operating condition before you use it.

OSHA requires completion of this pre-operational check. Download a sample forklift checklist here.

If you find an issue during your inspection, take your equipment out of service until it is repaired. Find a professional forklift servicing company in your area here.

If the checklist is completed successfully, you're free to use the equipment. Don't turn the equipment on until your seatbelt is fastened and your entire body is inside the forklift. 

While operating, make sure to keep your arms and legs inside the forklift at all times. Follow the three-point method for mounting and dismounting. This means having two feet and a hand or two hands and a foot engaged with the vehicle at all times.

Managers should make sure a physical log is available for operators to record the completion of the checklist and note any repairs or issues.

Load Capacity

Part of knowing how to drive a forklift safely is being mindful of its limits. This means adhering to recommended lifting capacity and height. Check the forklift's data plate for this information. Keep in mind that load capacity changes with the load center. Oddly shaped loads should be treated differently than standard ones.

Some loads require special attention. This could mean securing your loads with ropes or bindings. Sometimes it means sitting your forks low. Use your best judgment for safe forklift operation.

Designated Roadways

Regardless of how well you know how to operate a forklift, stick to approved roadways. Going off-path can involve unexpected hazards. No shortcut is worth compromising your safety or the safety of your employees. 

Travel Speed

Forklifts should only be operated at speeds that allow operators to stop safely and abruptly if needed. Reduce speed on wet and slippery floors. Slow down at intersections. Failure to do so will result in tip-over. Maintain a reasonable distance, about 20 feet or three seconds, between forklifts to prevent collisions. 

Most warehouses have tight spaces and blind spots. Always ensure you’re navigating these areas at an appropriate speed.

Pedestrian Safety

Keep your forklift as far away from pedestrians as possible, at least four feet. In some instances, you might need to refrain from forklift operation until no pedestrians are present. 

A forklift operator demonstrating how to drive a forklift safely

Safety Starts With Your Equipment

Protecting safety at your warehouse starts with training operators on how to operate a forklift effectively. However, that can only take you so far.

If your equipment is unsafe or unreliable, it may be time for a replacement. After all, it isn't very efficient to have your equipment in the shop more than it's in use.

Ready for an upgrade? Use Industrial Forklift Truck to compare all of your options in one place. Get free pricing on high-quality equipment in your area instantly. Find the perfect fit for your business and budget.

Encourage safe forklift operation with new, reliable equipment.

Get the Best Deal on Equipment You Can Trust.

Further Reading: