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Forklift Safety: 10 Tips for Safe Usage

Forklifts play a crucial role in the material handling industry, providing great efficiency and convenience for warehouse operations. These powerful industrial vehicles are also commonly used in manufacturing facilities, construction sites, and mechanic shops to move around heavy cargo, palletized items, and other loads. While these vehicles make heavy work much easier to do, operating a forklift requires proper training and careful attention to safety. The risks associated with forklift accidents can be significant, leading to serious injuries and property damage.

June 13th marks the tenth anniversary of National Forklift Safety Day, a holiday put on by the Industrial Truck Association (ITA). To celebrate, we will discuss the importance of forklift safety and essential tips to ensure a secure working environment for operators and those around them.

Why Is Forklift Safety Important?

Each day, over 850,000 forklift operators haul around heavy items for a more efficient process. With every use comes the risk of hazards like collisions, falls, and tip-overs that put the operator and others around them in serious danger. OSHA estimates that out of the 850,000 forklifts, roughly 100,000 will be involved in an accident whether it is non-serious, serious, or fatal.

Prioritizing forklift safety is paramount in any workplace where they are utilized. It promotes best practices when handling these massive vehicles, and demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of employees and a safe working environment. By adhering to proper safety guidelines and best practices, employers and employees can avoid accidents, protect lives, and prevent damage to property.

Follow our ten safety tips and best practices for operating forklifts below.

10 Forklift Safety Tips

forklift safety training with manager and employee

1. Proper Training

The first step is receiving comprehensive safety training on forklift operations before using the equipment. Safety training protects the operator, as well as the business, from liabilities such as OSHA non-compliance fines, increased insurance premiums, loss of resources, property or product damage, and injury or death. The best forklift safety training includes understanding controls, weight limits, and maneuvering techniques, as well as safety protocols like proper load handling, awareness of surroundings, and emergency procedures.

2. Perform Inspections Regularly

Before each shift, operators need to conduct thorough inspections of their forklifts for safe usage. Defective, faulty, or broken elements of the forklift can put the operators and others around them in potential danger if they aren't taken care of. Key components to examine include brakes, tires, steering, and fluid levels. Other parts to consider looking over are the battery, electrical safety devices, parking brake, hydraulics, and any attachments you have on the forklift.

Any defects or malfunctions should be reported to supervisors immediately to ensure prompt repairs. In the meantime, the forklift should be removed from service if it is found to be in unsafe operating condition.

forklift operator fastening the seat belt for safety

3. Use Seat Belts

This may not sound like a big deal for some, but seat belts are a critical safety feature in forklifts. Operators should always fasten their seat belts before starting the vehicle. This simple action prevents operators from being thrown from the forklift during sudden stops or tip-overs.

4. Maintain Clear Visibility

In order to avoid accidents, operators should have a clear view of their surroundings at all times. Keeping the load at a safe height prevents obstruction of vision. If the load stacks up too tall to the point that it blocks your visibility, you need to divvy up your loads.

For enhancing your visibility, consider using mirrors and cameras. These also allow the operator to monitor their blind spots effectively.

forklift moving heavy load to safety

5. Load Capacity Awareness

Each forklift has a specified load capacity that should never be exceeded. Operators must be aware of this limit and ensure that loads are properly secured and distributed on the forks. Overloading can lead to tip-overs and loss of control.

It's also important for operators to know about the Forklift Stability Triangle. This fundamental concept explains how operators need to maintain the stability for the forklift during operation. It refers to the triangular shape formed by the three points of contact that keep the forklift stable: the two front wheels and the rear drive axle.

forklift stability triangle graphic

Image from Conger Industries.

The front wheels serve as the base of the triangle and carry most of the forklift's weight. They provide stability by acting as a pivot point during turns and forward movements. Meanwhile, the rear drive axle is the third point that helps maintain balance by supporting counterweight at the back of the forklift.

In essence, the combined center of gravity (made up of the truck's center and the center for the load) should rest on the front wheels, or at least within the stability triangle. This maintains proper balance between the forklift and the load. When the combined center of gravity lies outside of this triangle, the forklift becomes subject to tipping or falling over.

6. Safe Speeds and Braking

Maintaining an appropriate speed is crucial for safe forklift operations. Operators should adhere to speed limits and adjust their speed based on the load, terrain, and visibility conditions. Slow down when approaching corners, ramps, or congested areas. Smooth braking techniques are equally important to prevent loads from shifting or causing accidents.

7. Pedestrian Safety

Forklift operators should always be cautious of pedestrians and maintain a safe distance. Use horns or alarms when approaching blind spots or congested areas, especially in warehouses or manufacturing facilities. These people should also know about staying alert in areas where forklifts are operating.

forklift hauling carboard boxes up a ramp

8. Stay Cautious on Ramps and Inclines

Moving heavy loads across ramps or inclines proves a challenging task for forklift operators. Exercise caution when ascending or descending ramps and make sure this is done slowly, ensuring the load remains stable. Operators need to establish safety by keeping the forklift and load balanced to prevent tip-overs on these platforms, creating much more life-threatening situations.

9. Secure Parking and Maintenance

When parking a forklift, engage the parking brake, lower the forks to the ground, and turn off the engine. If leaving the vehicle unattended, park it in designated areas away from traffic. Regular maintenance, including servicing and inspections, is essential to ensure the forklift remains in optimal working condition.

forklift operator filling out an incident report

10. Reporting Incidents and Near Misses

Lastly, operators should promptly report any accidents, incidents, or near misses to supervisors. Learning from these events can help identify potential hazards and implement preventive measures. Encouraging open communication about safety concerns creates a culture of continuous improvement and enhances overall safety in the workplace. 

Forklift safety is of paramount importance to prevent accidents, injuries, and property damage in industrial settings. We at U.S. Cargo Control take these tips very seriously to ensure the safety of our employees, products, and the overall work environment. By following these ten essential tips, forklift operators can mitigate risks, create a safer work environment, and ensure smooth and efficient operations. Remember, prioritizing safety is a shared responsibility that benefits everyone.

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