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Unsafe use of forklifts can cause damage to property, injuries or death. A forklift is an industrial equipment designed for lifting and moving materials safely in a workplace.

It’s unfair and unsafe to force workers to lift heavy loads which should be lifted by forklifts. Provide forklifts and ensure that they are operated safely.

I struggled to control a certain forklift operator for his unsafe driving bevahiour.

This operator, who was in his mid-twenties, would over-speed and skid the forklift carelessly.

Sometimes he would make 360o rotations several times before lifting the pallets of the product. To him, time to operate the forklift meant time to have ‘fun’.

He was using the forklift as a tool to entertain fellow workers. Whenever he made those car-racing moves, fellow workers would stop whatever they were doing to watch him.

They would even clap for him. He practiced all such unsafe behavior whenever he knew that I or any other leader was away. Such unsafe behavior was not only dangerous to himself but also to the fellow workers including those who were cheering and clapping for him.

Unsafe forklift operators like the one mentioned above often cause forklift accidents in the workplace.

A forklift truck is a hazard in the workplace. Therefore all workers, not just forklift operators, must be trained in Forklift Safety.

When an incidence occurs, depending on the severity of the accident, a forklift can injure or kill both the operator and pedestrian alike.

So Forklift Safety Training should not be limited to forklift operators only. Every worker must be trained.

The Forklift Safety training will raise awareness and ensure that both forklift operators and pedestrians behave safely with regard to forklift trucks. This will help to prevent accidents.

Let’s start our discussion by looking at the basic principles of the forklift. The forklift is designed to lift and move materials usually in warehouse.

A forklift is a useful tool for offloading and loading the trucks as well. There are different designs of forklifts.

Each forklift is designed to lift a specified load capacity. The common forklifts can lift a load of up to 2.5 ton. Some forklifts are fuel powered while others are battery powered.

Regardless of the design, a forklift has the following parts worth mentioning here.

These parts include the cabin, controls, forks, backrests and the mast. The forklift cabin houses the controls which the operator uses to operate the forklift. The controls includes the steering wheel and foot pedals. The forklift comes with a single seat to signify that it is designed to accommodate only a single person – the operator himself or herself.

Carrying someone as a passenger does not only put that person at risk of injury but it also compromises the stability of the forklift.

The forklift has two forks as carriage for lifting the load. It’s from these forks, which are usually two, where the forklift gets its name. The forks are connected to the mast.

The mast determines how high the load can be lifted. The forklift also has the backrest where the load can lean against during transportation. This is to improve the stability of the forklift.

A forklift is different from a car in many ways. Firstly cars and forklifts are different in the number of motions they make.

The forklift can move forward or backward and simultaneously lift the load up or down at the same time.

The car only moves forward or backward. It doesn’t have the provision to lift anything up or down.

While a car driver is only concerned about the motion of the car as a whole, the forklift operator is concerned about both the motion of the forklift as a whole and the motion of the forks.

Secondly cars and forklifts are different in the way they make turns.

When turning to the left or right, the forklift turns differently from a car.

The car moves differently from the forklift. The front wheels of the car make the turn while the rear wheels follow. For the forklift, it’s the opposite.

For the forklift, the rear wheels make turns and the front wheels follow. The front wheels of the forklift are rigidly fixed.

The rear wheels of the forklift are the ones that turn while the front wheels follow.

The implication of this design is that if you want to turn the forklift to the right, the wheels must turn to the left to make the forklift move to the right.

Despite this design mechanism, the steering wheel of forklift works in the similar way as that of the car.

If you want to turn the forklift to the right, you rotate the steering to the right – that is the clockwise direction.

Similarly rotating the steering to the left in an anticlockwise direction will turn the forklift to the left.

It’s important to be aware of the differences between cars and forklift so that you appreciate that knowing how to drive car does not mean that you can drive the forklift. To operate the forklift safely, you need to undergo specialized training.

Let’s move on to the safety tips you need to ensure that forklift safety is practiced in your workplace.

Both the pedestrian and forklift operator must practice safety. The pedestrian, in this case, means the workers walking on foot in workplace.

You may have come driving from home. Once you leave your car in your company car park, you become a pedestrian. As pedestrian, you are responsible for your own safety.

The following are some of the safe practices you must observe. Whenever you are walking in a workplace, be alert.

As you walk in your workplace, actively look and listen for mobile plant equipment especially forklifts.

If your workplace has designated walkways for pedestrians, then utilize them all the time.

Separating walkways for pedestrians and routes or passages for forklifts makes a workplace safe.

Where the pathways cross each other, take time to look to both directions before crossing the passage for the forklifts.

Be extra careful when approaching the intersections and corners as these provide blind spots which are often prone to accidents.

Be familiar with the warning sounds of the forklift. Whenever you hear the forklift approaching, give it chance to pass.

Do not assume that the forklift operator has seen you. Do not walk behind the forklift. Never distract the forklift driver.

Whistling at the forklift operator just to wave at him or her is unsafe. Do not ask for a lift. Refuse to be carried on a forklift even if the forklift driver freely offers you a lift. A forklift is not a ‘taxi.’ When the forklift is approaching or you are approaching one, you need to keep a safe distance.

Never stand or walk under suspended loads lifted by the forklift. Be aware that forklifts cannot stop suddenly.

They are designed to stop slowly to minimize the load damage and to maintain stability. Also remember that the forklift operator’s visibility may be limited due to blind spots.

As a forklift operator, observe the following safe practices. Never drive the forklift if you are not trained.

If you are trained, you must get trained and certified. Do not rush into driving the forklift. Inspect the forklift before driving it.

Ensure that it has enough fuel if it is fuel powered or well charged if it is battery powered.

Conduct checks such as oil level, brakes, warning lights, reverse alarm, horn, steering and tyres to ensure that they are all in good conditions.

Ensure that the forklift is serviced regularly. Wear correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) properly.

Mount or dismount the forklift gently and safely. When mounting or dismounting the forklift, always maintain a three points of contact.

When you are seated, immediately buckle your seatbelt. Make necessary adjustments such as mirrors.

Loading and unloading of the forklift must be done safely. Do not over load the forklift. To load the forklift safely, follow the following steps.

Approach the load slowly. Once you are near, stop with the fork tips almost reaching the load. Level and adjust the height of the forks.

Move forward slowly so that the forks enter the pallet of the load. Once the forks are properly positioned, lift the load and tilt it back.

Ensure that the load is well balanced, secured and centred. Reverse back and stop when the forks are just away from the stack. Lower the load to the travelling height and proceed to the destination.

To unload the forklift, follow the following steps. Once you reach the destination, stop and lift the load slightly above the storage location.

Carefully level the forks and move forward slowly until the load is at the desired location. Lower the load to the storage location and lower the forks to disengage from the pallet.

When depositing the load, regardless of how tall the stack may be, you must always verify the stack can support the load and the stack is stable.

When driving in forward motion, be alert to any hazards such as pillars, uneven surfaces, potholes or blind intersections.

You should also be on the lookout for pedestrians or other forklifts. Ensure the load is balanced, centered and secured. Never exceed the loading capacity of the forklift.

Ensure that the load doesn’t obstruct your view. Don’t over speed even if you feel pressured to meet production targets. Driving recklessly is dangerously.

Avoid any form of distractions such as someone talking to you or noise. Always concentrate on your work. Avoid using your cellphone while driving the forklift. Sometimes you may be required to drive in reverse.

Operating a forklift in reverse requires a skilled operator that maintains constant awareness of his or her surroundings.

There two common situations where travelling in reverse is required when carrying a load are when the load obstructs the view and when traveling down a steep slope.

Whether driving forward or reversing, observe safety. Never carry passengers on the forklift.

As I conclude, let me repeat that a forklift can kill you. Like a car, a forklift is a hazard. Never be too familiar with it.

To employers, invest in purchasing a forklift instead of subjecting your workers to unacceptable manual lifting.

A forklift will not only safeguard the health and safety of your workers but it will improve your productivity too. To forklift operators, practice safety always. Until next week, stay safe. Zambia needs you.

The author is the CEO of SafetyFocus, a safety company committed to providing safety training and consultancy.

For your comments, contact the author on cell +260 975 255770 or email:

Mark Kunda—Safety Consultant

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