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Forklift Safety Awareness

Tips from the Hartford - May 2008

In every wholesaler-distributor operation, stacks, bundles and rolls of raw material and finished products of various shapes, sizes and weights must be moved. Excessive and inefficient material handling eats into productivity and profits. And manual material handling opens the door to the risk of costly employee injuries. Efficient material handling sys¬tems and safe operation of material handling equipment such as powered industrial trucks are the answers. 

A powered industrial truck is defined as a mobile, power-driven vehicle used to carry, push, pull, lift, stack or tier material. Forklifts are one type of powered industrial truck used by many wholesaler-distributors. Other powered industrial trucks are known as pallet trucks, rider trucks, fork trucks, or lift trucks. There are many types and sizes of powered industrial trucks designed for different jobs. Many are named by the function they perform, such as high lift trucks, counterbalanced trucks, rider trucks and forklift trucks. Powered industrial trucks, which we will refer to as “forklifts” are used throughout the wholesale distribution industry to move raw materials and stock and to elevate personnel. 

The Accident Statistics 

Each year in the United States, nearly 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 are seriously injured in forklift-related incidents [BLS 1997, 1998]. Forklift overturns represent about 25% of all forklift-related deaths and represent the leading cause of fatalities involving fork¬lifts. Injuries also occur when forklift trucks are inadver¬tently driven off loading docks or fall between docks and an unsecured trailer. Workers can also be injured when struck by a lift truck, or if they fall while on elevated pallets and tines. Forklift accidents also cause costly property damage, such as damage to overhead sprinklers, racking, pipes, walls, and machinery. In most cases, both employee injuries and property damage can be attrib¬uted to lack of safe operating procedures, lack of safety-rule enforcement, and insufficient or inadequate training. This article provides an introduction to safe forklift truck operating procedures and forklift driver training requirements. 

Know the Risks and Follow OSHA Procedures 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) investigations of forklift-related deaths show that many workers and employers may not be aware of the risks of operating or working near forklifts and are not following the procedures set forth in OSHA standards, consensus standards, or equipment manufacturer’s guidelines. Reducing the risk of forklift incidents in your operation requires comprehensive worker training, systematic traffic management, a safe work envi¬ronment, a safe forklift and safe work practices. 

Federal law requires that forklift drivers be at least 18 years old and properly trained in and certified for operation of the forklifts they will be using. You can find these requirements in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard for powered industrial trucks 29 CFR 1910.178 and for forklifts used in the construction industry 29 CFR 1926.600 and 29 CFR 1926.602. The standard requires a written forklift safety program.

Proper Training 

It is an employer’s responsibility to ensure that every operator is competent to operate a forklift safely. Here are several possible steps to follow:

  • After participating in a formal training program in the form of lecture, discussion, or classroom presentation, an operator must successfully complete a written evaluation.
  • Forklift operators must participate in practical training which includes a demonstration of safe driving practices by the trainer. As part of the practical training, operators must also practice vehicle operation exercises.
  • Operators must successfully complete a “hands on” performance evaluation.
  • The employer must certify that operators have been trained and evaluated. Employers must keep training records and may issue certificates to trained, competent operators. A certified forklift operator must be re-evaluated at least once every three years to ensure they remain competent to operate a forklift safely.
  • The employer must certify that operators have been trained and evaluated. Employers must keep training records and may issue certificates to trained, competent operators. A certified forklift operator must be re-evaluated at least once every three years to ensure they remain competent to operate a forklift safely.

Effective forklift training should, at a minimum, address these four major areas:

  • General hazards that apply to the operation of all or most forklifts (including fuel and battery handling)
  • Hazards associated with the operation of particular types of trucks
  • General workplace hazards such as lighting and surface conditions
  • Hazards of the particular workplace where the vehicle operates (including hazardous locations such as ramps, docks, narrow aisles, trailers, rail cars and closed environments) 

The OSHA standard addresses specific training requirements for truck operation, loading, seat belts, overhead protective structures, alarms and maintenance of forklifts. Operator training should also address factors that affect the stability of a forklift – such as the weight and symmetry of the load, the speed at which the forklift is traveling, operating surface, tire pressure and driving behavior. Refresher training is required if an oper¬ator is found to be using the forklift in an unsafe manner, is involved in an accident or near miss, or is assigned a different type of truck. 

Inspection and Maintenance 

All forklifts should be examined before being placed in service. Daily examinations should be made and recorded in a written report or check¬list. Your operators should take a few minutes at the beginning of each day or shift to inspect their forklift and complete the pre-inspection report or checklist. 

Forklifts that are used on a round-the-clock basis should be examined before each shift. If any condition which adversely affects the safety of the vehicle is found, it shouldn’t be placed in service. Your employees should report any defects immedi¬ately for correction. 

Forklift Safety Checklists for You and Your Employees 

An effective program requires employer and worker compliance with OSHA regulations, con¬sensus standards and equipment maintenance. Safety checklists, similar to the following samples, can help raise forklift safety awareness and safe practices and also help to prevent forklift accidents: 

For employers: 

  • Make sure that workers do not operate a forklift unless they have been trained and licensed.
  • Develop, implement and enforce a comprehen¬sive written safety program that includes worker training, operator licensure and a timetable for reviewing and revising the program.
  • Establish a vehicle inspection and maintenance program.
  • Ensure that operator restraint systems are being used. Retrofit old sit-down type forklifts with an operator restraint system if possible.
  • Separate forklift traffic and other workers where possible.
  • Limit some aisles to “workers on foot only” or “forklifts only.”
  • Restrict the use of forklifts near time clocks, break rooms, cafeterias and main exits, particularly when the flow of workers on foot is at a peak (such as the end of a shift or during breaks).
  • Install physical barriers where practical to ensure that workstations are isolated from aisles traveled by forklifts.
  • Evaluate intersections and other blind corners to determine whether overhead dome mirrors could improve the visibility of forklift operators or workers on foot.
  • Make every effort to alert workers when a fork¬lift is nearby. Use horns, audible backup alarms and flashing lights to warn workers and other forklift operators in the area. Flashing lights are especially important in areas where the ambient noise level is high.
  • Ensure that workplace safety inspections are routinely conducted by a person who can identify hazards and conditions that are dangerous to workers and who has the authority to implement prompt corrective measures.
  • Install workstations, control panels and equip¬ment away from aisles when possible. Do not store bins, racks, or other materials at corners, intersections, or other locations that obstruct the view of operators or workers at workstations.
  • Enforce safe driving practices such as obeying speed limits, stopping at stop signs, and slowing down and blowing the horn at intersections.
  • Repair and maintain cracks, crumbling edges and other defects on loading docks, aisles and other operating surfaces.

For workers: 

  • Do not operate a forklift unless you have been trained and licensed.
  • Use seatbelts if they are available.
  • Report any damage or problems that occur with a forklift during your shift to your supervisor.
  • Do not jump from an overturning, sit-down type forklift. Stay with the truck if lateral or longitu¬dinal tipover occurs. Hold on firmly and lean in the opposite direction of the overturn.
  • Use extreme caution on grades, ramps, or inclines. Normally you should travel only straight up and down.
  • Do not raise or lower the forks while the forklift is moving.
  • Do not handle loads that are heavier than the rated weight capacity of the forklift.
  • Operate the forklift at a speed that will permit it to be stopped safely.
  • Slow down and sound the horn at intersections and other locations where vision is obstructed.
  • Look toward the path of travel and keep a clear view of it.
  • Do not allow passengers to ride on forklift trucks unless a seat is provided.
  • When dismounting from a forklift, always set the parking brake, lower the forks, and neutralize the controls.
  • Do not drive up to anyone standing in front of a bench or other fixed object.
  • Do not use a forklift to elevate workers who are standing on the forks.
  • Use a restraining means such as rails, chains, or a body belt with a lanyard or deceleration device for the person(s) on the platform.
  • Do not drive to another location with the work platform elevated.

Raising Forklift Safety Awareness 

Workers who are unaware of the potential hazards in their work environment are more vulnerable to injury. An effective forklift safety program com¬bined with a safe work environment, safe forklifts, comprehensive worker training, safe work practices and systematic traffic management can raise safety awareness in your and help to avoid injuries to workers.


  • Adams, Cheryl A. “Material Handling – The Final Frontier”. Printing Impressions. Philadelphia: North American Publishing Company, 2007, http://www.piworld.com/story/print.bsp?sid=24751&var=story.
  • Peck, Gretchen Kirby. “Materials Handling: the bindery’s best-kept secret:. American Printer, Prism Business Media, Inc., 2006, http://americanprinter.com/postpress/other/printing_materials_ handling_binderys/ 
  • Carter, Jeff. “Powered Industrial Trucks (Fork Truck): Fork Extensions, Modifications and Attachments”. Conn-OSHA Quarterly, Winter 2007, Volume 48, Connecticut Department of Labor, Automation Support Unit, http://www.ctdol.state.ct.us/osha/oq-Winter07.pdf. 
  • PressCheck: “Material Handling – A Pressing Problem” Spring 2005.


The information provided in these materials is of a general nature, based on certain assumptions. The content of these materials may omit certain details and cannot be regarded as advice that would be applicable to all businesses. As such, this information is provided for informational purposes only. Readers seeking resolution of specific safety, legal or business issues or concerns regarding this topic should consult their safety consultant, attorney or business advisors. The background presented is not a substitute for a thorough loss control survey of your business or operations or an analysis of the legality or appropriateness of your business practices. The information provided should not be considered legal advice.

The Hartford does not warrant that the information of any view or recommendation contained herein will: (i) result in the elimination of any unsafe conditions at your business locations or with respect to your business operations; or (ii) will be an appropriate legal or business practice. Further, The Hartford does not warrant that the implementation of any view or recommendation will result in compliance with any health, fire or safety standards or codes, or any local, state, or federal ordinance, regulation, statute or law including, but not limited to, any nationally recognized life, building or fire safety code or any state or federal privacy or employment law.) The Hartford assumes no responsibility for the control or correction of hazards or legal compliance with respect to your business practices, and the views and recommendations contained herein shall not constitute our undertaking, on your behalf, or for the benefit of others, to determine or warrant that your business premises, locations, operations or practices are safe or healthful, or are in compliance with any law, rule or regulation. Possession of these materials by a licensed insurance producer does not mean that such producer is an authorized agent of The Hartford. To ascertain whether a producer is a Hartford agent please contact your state’s Department of Insurance or The Hartford at 1-888-203-3823.

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