5 Elements of Forklift Safety

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In many industries today, it isn’t surprising that forklift truck safety isn’t a priority for most managers and supervisors. According to OSHA, 96,785 is the number of injuries are caused every year (non-serious, serious, and fatal) due to improper training or sheer carelessness on the job.

In the United States the number is 855,900, meaning that each year more than 1 in 10 forklifts are involved in an accident (assuming 1 accident per forklift).

These accidents change many lives forever. That is why in 2018, we are encouraging companies to make forklift training a mandatory part of their operations and provide all proper safety information to all of their employees. Take control of your training process and Contact us now!


5 Elements of Forklift Safety

To help get you started on your road to safety, here are 5 elements of forklift safety. The most important thing to notice is that these elements don’t cost much more than your time and determination.


1. Train For Safety


A commitment to safety begins with proper training. Forklift drivers and their employers are governed by federal and provincial safety standards.

There is no official “license” to obtain in order to operate a forklift, but drivers must have proof that they have received training that meets government standards. Attend a forklift operator training course that meets standards set out by Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) for forklift or lift truck operator training.

There will be an in-class theoretical component and hands-on practical component. Once completed successfully, you will receive written confirmation in the form of a certificate. The CSA also recommends that you need to complete practical retraining course every 18 months and a comprehensive classroom and practical re-certification every 3 years. 

Most companies recognize the importance of ‘basic’ operator training. But this alone doesn’t give your operators the tools, skills, and knowledge necessary to work as safely and efficiently as possible, in their role, with their equipment, and in their working environment. 

A forklift is dangerous; this is the main reason why safety training should be taken seriously. Untrained operators don’t fully understand how to operate equipment; and they can overlook important safety precautions. Accidents are much more expensive than spending money for training: Why? Forklift training benefits the company not just the worker who operates the forklift.

Damage due to inexperienced drivers can be costly, cause injuries to operators and pedestrians, cause downtime, and cause loss of life.

Forklift training will also deal with the most common reasons and situations in which accidents occur and how to avoid these risks and safely operate the forklift. 

By learning how to avoid the most common situations and behaviours that result in accidents, you will be able to minimize those risks so that the forklift can be used as the tool it is meant to be, saving backbreaking labor and actually making the workplace safer.


2. Perform Checkups


Getting into the habit of regularly inspecting (circle check) all equipment is a simple but important preventative measure, and should be part of every operator’s daily pre-shift routine.

Performing a “circle check” reduces the chance of equipment being operated in an unsafe condition. Pre-Checkups will make it easier to spot and deal with maintenance issues early before they become more serious causing downtime, equipment damage or extensive repairs.

In its 29 CFR 1910.178 standard language, OSHA states that forklifts must be inspected either daily or after each shift in cases where vehicles are in round-the-clock use. Checkpoints should include seat belts, tires, lights, horn, brakes, backup alarms and fluid levels, as well as the moving and load-supporting parts of the forklift. 

You might have multiple employees using a single forklift within your workplace, so it is important that you familiarize yourself with the new forklift or just ensure the forklift is up to scratch since the last use.

A useful tool is a pre-inspection checklist. Implementing the use of a paper checklist system reminds the operator to regularly perform all pre-shift checks, ensure that problems are documented and communicated to supervisors, and help pinpoint when and how changes in the condition of the equipment occurred.

Next do a quick overview of the work environment conditions. Is there any evidence of any fluid leaks?  Is the floor and surrounding area clear of obstruction? Some important points you need to take extra care with are checking the data plate for capacities ( safe working load), load center, and mast full height (MFH). 

A pre-operational inspection of equipment, however, is NOT the same as training to operate the equipment. Do not operate or work with equipment unless you have been properly trained to do so. 

Proper pre-operation inspection protocols are important in helping avoid workplace damage and injury, and they should not be difficult to manage when using our pre-operation check log book to ensure inspections are being done daily. 


3. Know The Machinery & The Rules


Operating a forklift is serious business, so it is important to be more proactive in how you operate it. If you are not careful, you could really hurt yourself, hurt other people, or you could ruin product.

There’s a lot that can happen just by your simple lapse of judgment. In many ways driving a forklift is basically like driving a vehicle on the road. Treat the forklift with respect, as well as the pedestrians walking around you. If you do this the you and everyone else will be safe.

Even though lift trucks and personal vehicles share some similarities, they ultimately are quite different. The following are ways that a lift truck varies from a personal vehicle:

  • Open structure, driver completely exposed

  • Weights ranging from 9,000 to 30,000 pounds, with rough-terrain lift trucks at the heavier end

  • Traveling speeds of less than 20 mph, closer to a walking pace

  • Three-point forklift stability vs Four points car stability

  • More prone to tipping over – loaded or not – and varying stability

  • Tighter turning radius for operating in tight spots

  • Rear wheel steering, tail swings wider than a car

Another important forklift safety practice which is overlooked quite often is knowing your machine.

Just because you know how to drive your forklift doesn’t mean you know how to operate another. Different brands or models function differently. 

Components such as pedals, switches, and steering can vary from one type of forklift to the next. In addition, the workplace conditions like rough surfaces, obstructions and closed environment can present hazardous conditions that make it critical for operators to get proper safety training.

Always be aware of your surroundings and the machinery you are operating.  There are many options to increase visibility including better process, better lighting, safety equipment and more.

Operators need to be aware of and make eye contact with, pedestrians or other workers. Here are some other measures you should take to increase drivers visibility:

  • Keep a clear view, operate in reverse if it improves visibility, except when on ramps.

  • Always look in the direction of travel.

  • If visibility is poor, do not continue driving.

  • Reduce aisle and dock clutter. 

  • Use spotters or aids such as rear-view mirrors to boost visibility.

  • Pay attention to pedestrians, warning sounds.

  • Get properly trained on forklift and warehouse safety procedures.

  • Make sure you can see the racking clearly in which you are positioning your load. 

Remember the rules and Don’t take chances with your safety. Knowing and understanding your forklifts will determine the level of safety within your workplace.


4. Understand The “Stability Triangle”


In forklift training, safety is the key, however. no matter what is being taught, there are various topics to learn about, like the stability triangle.  Load weight, weight distribution, size, shape, and position are key factors affecting the stability of the forklift. 

One of the hardest things for lift truck operators to grasp in training is the importance of maintaining their center of gravity within their stability triangle. 

In a few words, a forklift has a three-point suspension system. It is found over the two front load wheels, as well as the back mid-point between the rear wheel. If you draw a line between the two front tires to the pivot point on the rear axle and back again you get the forklift stability triangle.

When you raise or lower a load, make quick turns, and tilt the mast, the center of gravity shifts inside the stability triangle. The center of gravity must remain inside this triangle.

I’ve just mentioned the top point of the pyramid is located just above the operator’s head. Watch this video to fully understand the stability triangle. 


All forklifts have a rated capacity – most are rated at a 24-inch load center, which is the center of standard 48-inch-long forks. The rated capacity drops as you move a load out from the load center. As a rule of thumb, for every inch you move a load forward from the load center, the capacity of the forklift will drop a few hundred pounds.

You should always travel with your forks down low because you have more room for your center of gravity to move.

When you have the forks high, it’s called the triangle of stability which refers to is the balance of weight. 

Factors such as heavy and unbalanced loads, driving on sloping or uneven terrain, or turning with elevated loads can result in the center of gravity moving outside of the triangle. The result can be catastrophic.Another important safety rule to remember is to be sure to wear your seatbelt at all times.

To take a step back, one of the greatest risks that a lift truck operator faces is a tip over. Tip overs are the cause of about 100 deaths, 34,900 serious injuries and 61,800 minor injuries of lift truck fatalities, according to one source.

In 2010, OSHA identified about 110 workplace fatalities where the lift truck was identified as either the primary or a secondary source of the accident. As mentioned above, a tip over can occur when the center of gravity moves outside of the stability triangle.


  • Do not jump off the forklift even if it begins to tip over

  • Firmly hold on the steering wheel

  • Brace your feet

  • Lean away from impact

  • Lean forward

Prior to operating a forklift, it is critically important for forklift operators to be both fully trained and qualified. They should thoroughly understand the safety instructions in their Operations and Maintenance Manuals so they can completely understand how to avoid forklift tip-overs as well as actions to take if one occurs.


5. Know About The Load Basics

What’s so hard about lifting a load? It may seem simple to pick up a load, yet if not done properly, injury and damage can occur. A forklift must be maneuverable, however when carrying loads, they become unstable.

It is important for a forklift operator to have a clear understanding of their forklift’s load capacity.  As more forklift options and attachments become available, it reduces the load capacity limitations.

The attachment has a weight of its own that will eat up some of your unit’s capacity. A load capacity is determined as the maximum weight that a forklift is able to safely carry at a specified load center. The load limit is shown on the data plate of the lift truck; do not exceed the maximum load limit.

Forklift operators also need to be aware of the load they are moving. The weight, shape and size effects the load center. If you are lifting a more bulky or deeper item, the load centre will increase.

Operators need to check loads before picking them up with the forks, ensuring the load’s stability and dimensions will allow for safe transport. Some useful tips you should always keep in the back of your mind when loading include:

  • Always approach the load slowly and carefully

  • Stop 8-12 inches in front of the load

  • Make sure the truck is placed squarely in front of the load

  • Make sure the forks are at the correct height for lifting the load

  • Set the direction control to neutral

  • Never raise or lower the forks unless the forklift is stopped and the brake is set

  • Before raising the load, make sure there’s enough overhead clearance. Your vision can be blocked after the load is elevated.

  • Use the inching pedal to creep the load to the stack.

To make sure that the load is stable, heavy objects should be placed at the bottom of the load and to the rear of the load. You should secure the load if there is any chance of objects falling off and the load should not extend beyond the backrest of the carriage.

Operators should never drive forward with forks raised and should lift them off the ground a few inches before proceeding. A load that’s too heavy can raise the forklift’s rear off the ground and create a safety hazard. Also driving too fast may cause the forks to strike something and tip the load over or cause the forklift to suddenly stop.

Make sure you have clear visibility of other traffic, pedestrians, and people not involved when loading and unloading. Machinery can seriously hurt people.

An important note, if you have the attachment changed, or add a new attachment you need to remember to ensure your truck’s data plate is accurate.


Stay Safe At Work - Get Forklift Training Today!

Wayco provides hands-on, practical forklift training for both new operators and refresher training for experienced operators. Contact us today to learn more about our training programs, or visit our training page now!

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