Hey friend! So you landed a job working in a warehouse or manufacturing plant and need to learn how to operate a forklift? Not to worry, operating a forklift is not as hard as it looks. With proper forklift training and knowing what to do, you’ll be lifting and moving heavy loads in no time!
Forklifts, also known as lift trucks, are powered industrial vehicles used to lift and transport materials over short distances. They come in many shapes and sizes, like sit-down forklifts with counterbalance in the rear or reach trucks that allow you to reach into racking. Learning how each forklift differs will make you a pro.
Knowing how to inspect a forklift, drive it safely around the warehouse, and properly handle loads is key. We’ll go over those topics here, as well as other useful tips so you can operate a forklift like a boss! Let’s get started.
Forklift Operator Requirements
Before you can just hop on a forklift and start working, there are some requirements you need to meet. I know, I know, so many rules! But they are important for safely operating these heavy-duty machines.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that all forklift operators be trained and certified. Many employers provide training programs, or you can attend a forklift “boot camp” to get certified. Training covers how to inspect, drive, load, and handle a forklift properly.
You also need to be at least 18 years old to operate a forklift. And yes, there is a physical component too. You must have the visual, auditory, and physical ability to drive the equipment safely. Most places require you to have a valid driver’s license too. Once you’re properly certified and licensed, you’ll be ready to hop on that forklift!
Types of Forklifts
There are many different types of forklifts out there, each designed for specific uses. Some of the most common ones you’ll encounter:
These have a seat for the operator inside the cab.
- Counterbalanced – These have a counterweight in the rear to prevent tipping when lifting loads. They are very versatile and commonly used.
- Rough terrain – Have large treaded tires that allow them to handle uneven outdoor surfaces.
- Swing mast – Designed for working in confined spaces because the mast can rotate.
- Side loader – Forks are mounted on the side of the truck to pick and place loads in narrow aisles.
No seat on these, you stand inside the protective operator cage. Gives you great visibility for picking and placing loads precisely.
A small forklift used to lift and move pallets. Easy to maneuver in tight spaces. Requires no certification to operate.
Let you pick items from racks at elevated heights. Have a platform for the operator to stand on that rises up.
Have an extending fork that reaches out to pick and place loads in warehouse racking. Great for narrow aisles.
There are even more types like stackers, telehandlers, and side shifters. Each warehouse will use different forklifts, so ask about the types you’ll be using during your training.
Forklift Controls and Instruments
Now we get to the heart of operating a forklift – the controls and instruments. They may seem intimidating at first, but don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of them quickly. Here’s an overview:
Steering and Drive Controls
These operate just like a car:
- Steering wheel or handle – Turns the wheels to steer the forklift.
- Accelerator – Foot pedal that controls speed, the more you press down, the faster it goes.
- Brake – Slows and stops the forklift. Don’t forget to use it!
- Inching pedal – Provides precise low-speed control for positioning the forks.
- Direction control – Shifts between forward, reverse, and neutral.
These are usually levers that control the fork motions:
- Forks up/down – Lifts and lowers the fork tines.
- Tilt forward/back – Tilts the mast to adjust fork angle.
- Side shift – Moves the forks horizontally to adjust position.
Displays important info about the forklift’s status:
- Hour meter – Shows operating time to schedule maintenance.
- Fuel gauge – Indicates fuel level (not on electric forklifts).
- Warning lights – Signals issues like low battery or overheating.
Daily Forklift Inspection
Part of the job of operating a forklift is inspecting it before use each day. You want to check for any damage or issues that could make it unsafe to operate. Do a quick walkaround and inspect:
- Tires – Look for cuts or wear. Low pressure can impact handling.
- Mast – Check for cracks or dents. Make sure chains are tight and not kinked.
- Forks – See they aren’t cracked or bent and slide smoothly.
- Fluid levels – Top off if low, may indicate a leak.
- Hydraulics – Signs of fluid leaks?
- Controls and instruments – Test them out to see all are working.
- Lights and alarms – Verify they turn on; replace any burnt out bulbs.
Don’t operate the forklift if you find any deficiencies. Instead, report them immediately so repairs can be made. It’s key to ensuring everyone’s safety.
Safe Forklift Driving
Alright, now we get to the fun part – driving this beast around! Here are tips for doing it safely:
- Adjust your seat, mirrors, seatbelt – Make sure you can see and are secured.
- Follow traffic rules – Stay to the right, drive in designated lanes.
- Slow down in crowded areas – Drive at a walking pace in busy spots.
- Sound the horn at crossings – Alert pedestrians you’re passing through.
- Look behind you when reversing – Check your path is clear.
- Drive in reverse on inclines – Less chance of tipping going up backwards.
- Avoid sudden stops and turns – Slow down smoothly to maintain control.
- Park only in designated areas – Out of traffic lanes and not blocking fire exits.
It may take some practice learning how the forklift handles with a load and maneuvering in tight spaces. But take it slow, follow the rules, and soon you’ll be zipping around the warehouse with ease!
Loading and Unloading
Lifting and moving loads is the whole point of operating a forklift. Here are some tips for doing it safely:
- Size up the load – Is it too heavy or wide for the forklift?
- Center the load on the forks – Keeps it balanced so it won’t tip.
- Insert forks fully under the load – Gives it secure support.
- Keep load close to mast – Minimizes risk of tipping over backwards.
- Tilt mast back – Angles load backwards for added stability.
- Look out for pedestrians – Don’t lift or drive loads if anyone is in your path.
- Make wide, smooth turns – Sudden turns can shift the load.
- Slow down on uneven surfaces – Helps prevent losing control of the load.
- When stacking, keep it straight – Misaligned loads can collapse.
- Check placement then back out – Make sure load is secure before exiting.
Follow these loading tips and you’ll soon be moving pallets and totes with ease. Just take it slow until you get the hang of it.
Refueling and Recharging
Depending on what powers your forklift, you’ll have to refuel it with gas, diesel, or propane. Or plug it in to recharge the battery. Whichever one you operate, be sure to do it safely:
- Turn off the engine before fueling.
- Ground the tank nozzle against the fill opening when refueling.
- Avoid spills by not overfilling.
- Put fuel caps back on tightly.
- Recharge batteries in designated recharging stations only.
- Use the buddy system when refueling.
- Clean up spills immediately. Report large spills.
Following safe refueling processes reduces the chance of fires and accidents.
To keep your forklift running smoothly, it needs regular maintenance. As an operator, your role is mainly preventative:
- Keep the forklift clean – Removes debris that can cause damage.
- Check fluid levels often – Top off oil, hydraulic fluid, and coolant when low.
- Lubricate moving parts – Keeps things shifting smoothly.
- Report any issues – Alert your supervisor to mechanical problems or damage.
Well maintained forklifts are less likely to break down or pose safety hazards. Do your part to keep it in top shape.
Working around heavy machinery brings risks, but being safety conscious minimizes the chances of accidents. Follow these tips whenever operating a forklift:
- Wear seatbelts – Keeps you inside the protective cab in a collision.
- Avoid exceed lift capacity – Can cause tip-overs or damage.
- Drive loaded forks backward on ramps – Safer than going up forward.
- Look out for pedestrians – Use horns and follow right of way rules.
- Report unsafe conditions – If anything seems off, let your supervisor know.
- Follow traffic rules – Keeps things orderly and avoids collisions.
- Drive slowly over rough terrain – Reduces risk of overturning or dropping loads.
- Stack loads securely – Improperly placed items can fall.
Staying vigilant and making safety your top concern ensures things run smoothly in the warehouse.
Everything you need to know to operate a forklift safely and efficiently. At first, all the inspection, driving, loading procedures may seem complicated. But once you get hands-on experience and confidence handling a forklift, it will become second nature. Just take your time, follow safety rules, and ask questions if unsure. You’ll be zipping pallets around the warehouse like a pro before you know it!