OSHA Forklift Hand Signals You Should Know

Forklifts are the workhorses of the modern warehouse, and every operator should know these seven universal forklift hand signals. When you and your workers can communicate in the noisy atmosphere of a busy and potentially dangerous workplace, you help to ensure that everyone stays safe and that inventory moves smoothly.

7 OSHA-Recommended Forklift Hand Signals

These are the most commonly used hand signals. Warehouses are noisy places, and you have to have a way to direct where and how to move a load, even when the operator can't hear you. Learn these OSHA forklift hand signals and other tips for forklift operation and safety to keep your crew safe.

1. Emergency Stop

This signal could save a life or prevent a disaster, so you want to be clear on this one first and foremost. Use an emergency stop signal when the situation is dangerous. Anyone on the worksite can use this signal, and OSHA forklift safety regulations require that anyone who sees it stop immediately.

To signal an emergency stop, stand straight and bend your elbows about 30 degrees so your hands cross over each other on your lower belly. Straighten and raise your arms until they are parallel to the floor. As you complete the gesture, your body and arms form a "T." This is probably the most important of all forklift hand signals.

2. Dog Everything (Pause)

The dog everything signal doesn't imply danger. It may mean that you need to pause your forklift for another to pass or stop moving to prevent damage to your load or the racks. It still indicates that you should stop but likely only for a moment.

To make this gesture, bend your elbows 90 degrees and hold them out from your body so your hands are not touching. Position your hands as though you are about to shake hands with someone. Bring your hands together in front of you. Your hands should lock together at the crotch between your thumb and your pointer finger and stop, with the fingers of one hand in front, laying over the back of your other hand.

3. Raise the Tines

Using a spotter can greatly improve forklift safety. Often, the spotter directing the operator from the floor can see what's in front of the load better than the operator can. In this case, forklift hand signals tell the operator to adjust the height or position of the tines to accurately pick up or place the load.

Like many of the OSHA forklift hand signals, the gesture for raising the tines is simple. Raise the right hand, pointing up, with the elbow at 90 degrees and the index finger pointed to the ceiling or sky. The finger then rotates in a small circle until the tines have reached the correct height.

4. Lower the Tines

The gesture for lowering the tines is similar to the signal you'd make to another driver to slow down. Extend your right arm straight out from the shoulder and motion with your hand as though you were pushing down. Keep your hand parallel to the floor while signaling to lower the tines.

5. Move the Tines Left or Right

Often, you'll need to adjust the position of the fork tines sideways to line up with a pallet or a space on the racks. Using forklift hand signals, a spotter can help you get into the right position the first time, preventing damage or just wasting time.

These hand signals are intuitive. To indicate a shift to the right, a spotter facing you will use his or her left hand to point to your right. The arm raises from a relaxed position next to the torso, straightened and parallel to the floor, with the index finger pointing in the direction the forks should move.

If the forks need to move left, the spotter will use the right arm to point to your left. Basically, if your spotter points to the left or right, move the forks in that direction.

6. Tilt the Mast Forward

OSHA forklift hand signals can also tell the operator how to position the mast to make the load more balanced or easier to unload. Tilting the mast forward puts the front of the tines closer to the floor, making the load easier to slide off the forks. This is a way to gently offload the front edge of the pallet or to make the load more accessible for workers to unload the pallet by hand.

The gesture to tilt the mast forward is similar to giving someone the "thumbs down" signal. The right arm extends straight out at the shoulder and parallel to the floor. Lower the arm slightly and bend the elbow with the thumb pointing downward. Repeat until the tines are in the correct position.

7. Tilt the Mast Back

To better balance and secure a load by shifting the weight toward the mast, the operator will often tilt the mast back toward the body of the forklift. This position causes the tines to be higher off the floor at the front than they are at the heel of the forks. Like many forklift hand signals, this gesture improves the safety of moving a load.

For this gesture, the right arm extends straight from the shoulder. The elbow bends to 90 degrees with the forearm moving up, and the thumb pointing directly at the spotter's head.

An Additional Safety Signal: Distance to Stop

Though not always listed among the essential OSHA forklift hand signals, the "distance to stop" signal can be helpful. It shows the operator how much farther the load needs to go before it is in the desired position. Extend your arms to indicate the distance, 2 feet apart for 2 feet, for example. Hold your hands up, palms facing each other, and as the gap closes, move your hands toward each other. When the hands come together, the load is in place.

Safety and Efficiency With Forklift Hand Signals

To keep your forklift operators and other warehouse workers safe and your lift trucks working at maximum efficiency, it is useful for your entire staff to know these common forklift hand signals. For more information on forklift safety or to purchase a new or used forklift for your warehouse, visit us today at Industrial Forklift Truck.

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