Christina Lien
Lead Safety Consultant,
The Associated General Contractors of Alaska logo
occupational health
Five Tips for Safety
Keeping operators and workers safe in and around forklifts
By Christina Lien

perating a forklift is a critical task that requires experience, precision, and an unwavering focus on safety. While these machines provide operators with substantial power and an exceptional range of capabilities on a job site, it is important to acknowledge the skills required to operate safely to avoid damage and injury. Here are five tips every operator should know when utilizing a forklift. By following these tips, you can create a safer workplace, reduce accidents, and improve productivity.

Tip 1: Conduct Pre-Operational Checks
As a forklift operator, you are responsible for valuable cargo along with the safety of those around you. This is why it is critical to inspect your machine at the beginning of every shift. By performing this inspection, you know the condition and limitations of the machine you are operating and can identify any damage or defects that might impact safe operation. Ensure your company is using a standard pre-use inspection checklist and take the time to walk around your machine, methodically checking all components. Document any items that need to be corrected and report any concerns that might affect safe operation. Remember to also inspect your worksite and the surrounding conditions. Work sites in Alaska change rapidly due to the temperatures, winds, and daily operations, so it is important to walk along your route to identify any hazards.
Tip 2: Wear Your Seatbelt
Around 25 percent of forklift fatalities are a direct result of the operator not wearing their seatbelt, a sad and unnecessary statistic. The protective structure that surrounds the cab will not protect you from injury on its own. Tipping over, getting hit by heavy equipment, or rolling into an excavation are accidents we see more often than we would like. Your seatbelt is your primary form of protection when that happens. Fatalities resulting from tip overs and rollovers are mostly because the operator jumped out of the machine and was crushed by the equipment or because the operator was tossed around the cab and sustained fatal head and neck injuries. Competent operators never expect to tip over their forklift, but it happens in a matter of seconds, often due to unforeseeable conditions. The difference between going home to your loved ones or becoming a fatal statistic might simply be whether or not you wore your seatbelt.
Tip 3: Read Load Capacity Charts
One of the root causes of forklift accidents and operator injuries is handling unstable loads. As an operator, you can mitigate these hazards by understanding the load capacity and limitations of your machine. Every forklift comes with a load chart that shows maximum load capacity based on unit configuration. This means your machine varies in its capacity to safely handle and transport loads based on the extension and angle of the boom as well as the attachment type and deployment of outriggers. Learn to read your load capacity chart to identify whether a particular configuration could lead to a tip over based on the weight of your load. If the load capacity charts are missing or illegible, you should note this in your initial inspection. Even if a tip over doesn’t occur, consistently overloading equipment can accelerate wear and tear, lead to premature failure of mechanical components and structure, and necessitate frequent repairs or replacements. Operating within load capacity limits extends the equipment’s lifespan and reduces long-term maintenance costs. Understanding and respecting load capacity limits is crucial to being a capable and reliable forklift operator.
Tip 4: Understand the Stability Triangle
The stability triangle provides the basic principles of maintaining balance and allows operators to make informed decisions while handling loads. The stability triangle consists of imaginary lines extending from the two front wheels and the center of the rear axle. The center of gravity is the point where the weight is evenly distributed. The center of gravity can shift when the load is raised, lowered, or tilted. The goal is to keep the center of gravity within the stability triangle to prevent tip overs. To maintain stability, the majority of the load’s weight should be close to the front axle. A load that is too heavy at the rear or lifted too high can cause the center of gravity to move outside the stability triangle, leading to a tip over. Use the following precautions to maintain stability while operating:

  • Avoid excessive tilting or raising of the mast when carrying a load. This can shift the center of gravity and compromise stability.
  • Tilt the mast slightly backward to improve visibility and stability.
  • Watch out for uneven or slippery surfaces that could compromise stability.
  • Keep an eye out for debris, potholes, or other obstructions that could cause tip overs.
  • Exercise extra caution when operating on inclines or ramps. Always travel with the load uphill and travel downhill without a load whenever possible.
  • Be cautious of sharp obstacles such as ramps, curbs, door frames, and speed bumps. Approach them slowly and at a slight angle to prevent abrupt shocks or jolts that may lead to load shifting or tip overs.
Tip 5: Get Continuous Training and Refresher Courses
Whether you operate a forklift as part of your regular job duties or as an occasional tool to complete intermittent tasks, training and education play a crucial role in enhancing your skills and knowledge. Ongoing operator training helps you stay updated on the latest safety regulations, procedures, and best practices. By learning advanced techniques and safe operating practices, you can handle challenging tasks more efficiently. Additionally, operator training is important for the identification of potential hazards and decreases the likelihood of incidents resulting in injuries or property damage.

Regulations regarding forklift operation and safety standards are constantly evolving. Ongoing training ensures that operators are aware of the latest regulations and comply with them. Workplace accidents involving forklifts and heavy machinery often result in detailed OSHA inspections and can yield some of the largest citations.

Forklifts are heavy, powerful machines that help workers complete tasks more efficiently, but they are also capable of causing great damage and injury. Anyone can be an operator, but a great operator is someone who ensures their own safety along with the safety of others by performing daily pre-use inspections, wearing their seatbelts, following load capacity charts, understanding the stability triangle, and staying up to date on training and safety regulations. Follow these tips and go be great!

Christina Lien is a certified IVES equipment trainer and the lead safety consultant for SafeLogic, a consulting firm specializing in safety, health, and environmental solutions for companies. She is also a journeyman carpenter and studied construction management at UAA.