Forklift Safety Guide

Posted by Zing Green Safety Products on Aug 18th 2021

April 5th, 2020

Forklift Safety Guide


According the National Safety Council, forklifts cause nearly 40,000 injuries per year and 100 fatalities. In addition, millions of dollars are spent on property damage resulting from improper use of lift trucks. Potential hazards include tipping, falling, crushing or striking, falling loads, and driving off loading docks. Most fatalities occur when forklifts tip.


Lift trucks are categorized by their power source: gasoline (G), diesel (D), propane (LP) or electric (E). Some lift trucks may have more than one power source. Not all power sources are appropriate for every work environment, so it is important consider your workplace. For instance, a gasoline-powered lift truck is a hazard in an environment with a potentially flammable atmosphere.

According The National Safety Council, Forklifts Cause Nearly 40,000 Injuries Per Year And 100 Fatalities

Types Of Lift Trucks


A lift truck is comprised of two main parts: the body and the hydraulic lift.

The Body


  • Wheels
  • Counterweight

The counterweight is metal casing on the back of the body that provides stability and a more even distribution of weight.

  • Seating area
  • Control panel

The control panel is located in the front of the lift truck, much like a typical car or truck. The control panel displays information related to the lift truck’s fuel and performance. Typical indicators on the control panel include the charge or fuel amounts, engine hour meter, oil pressure, and the engine temperature.

  • Controls

The steering wheel, brakes, and accelerator work much like a car or truck. Lift trucks however, have unique features. Lift trucks have a directional control which allows the vehicle to be driven forward or backward. Controls for operating the hydraulic lift are also present. In most lift trucks the hydraulic lift can be moved up and down and tilted backward. Also present are controls that move forks in or out. Lift trucks also have horns and lights, important safety features which increase awareness and visibility.

  • Overhead guard

The overhead guard encloses the seating area and prevents falling objects from striking the driver. If there are openings in the overhead guard, you may be required to wear a hard hat.

  • Data plate

The data plate contains information about the truck’s fuel category and weight limit. The data plate is permanently attached to the body of the truck and must be completely legible.

The Hydraulic Lift


  • Lift and chains

Forklift chains are attached to the mast and routed up and over a chain wheel. This allows the mast carriage to be moved.

  • Mast

The mast is the vertical assembly that lifts, tilts, and lowers loads.

  • Forks

The forks are prongs used for lifting pallets and other objects. Forks can generally be moved inwards or outwards by the controls.


The most common danger associated with driving lift trucks is instability. To avoid instability, workers must be familiar with the points of a suspension and proper load placement.

The Stability Triangle

A lift truck has three points of suspension: the two front wheels and the center of the rear axle. Understanding the three points of suspension is essential to operating the lift truck safely. If theoretical lines were drawn between the three points of suspension, it would form a triangle. This is known as the stability triangle; to keep the lift truck stable, the center of gravity must remain inside this triangle.

Weight added to the forks will cause the center of gravity to move forward. Tilting the load backwards moves the center of gravity backwards. Improperly placed loads and fast turns can cause the center of gravity to move outside of the stability triangle, which will cause the lift truck to tip. This graphic from OSHA shows how the stability triangle works:

Load Capacity and Placement

The load capacity is indicated on the lift truck’s data plate. You must make sure the load does not exceed the load capacity. If the data plate is damaged, illegible, or in any way unclear, do not use the lift truck. Instead, notify your supervisor that the data plate needs to be replaced. The placement of the load can also affect the overall weight. The further away the load is from the fulcrum point (the front wheels act as a fulcrum between the body of the lift truck and the hydraulic lift), the less stability the load has.

The load should be placed as close to the front of the lift truck as possible. The forks should be tilted slightly backwards and the load should always be lowered before driving. This keeps the load close to the fulcrum point and prevents the truck from tipping. If you must move an unbalanced load, make sure that the heaviest part of the load is closest to the fulcrum point.

Taking care while driving any motor vehicle is common sense, but lift trucks pose unique hazards. Fork trucks have a much higher center of gravity than cars. For this reason, it is important to drive at reasonable speeds and to take turns slowly. Driving too fast can cause loads to spill or the lift truck to tip. In either of these situations, drivers and nearby employees face serious injuries. Costly damage to equipment and goods is also likely to occur in the event of a spill or tip.


It is important to keep your lift truck clean of oil, dirt, or grease, which can prevent moving parts from working correctly. It is recommended to wipe down your lift truck daily to prevent buildup of dirt or grease.

Before each use, an inspection must be conducted to ensure that the lift truck is in good working order. An inspection tag that verifies that the inspection has taken place must be signed, dated, and filed. Inspection tags generally have checklists to help guide the inspection. The inspection should cover the following aspects of the lift truck:

  • Tires

Because one of the dangers of lift trucks is tipping, it is important to make sure all tires have good tire pressure and are free from any punctures and splits, which may cause the truck to operate unevenly or poorly.

  • Overhead Guard

The overhead guard will protect you from falling materials and even protect your head from impact with the ground if the truck tips.

  • Hydraulic Lift and Forks

Check to see that the lift is in good working condition and is not leaking any fluids. Make sure that the forks are not bent or deteriorating. If there are problems with the hydraulic lift, loads can quickly become fall hazards.

  • Power Source

If your lift truck is powered by a propane tank, check to make sure the tank is safely secured and that there are no leaks in the connections. If you smell propane, report the problem immediately to your supervisor; do not start the truck and make sure all valves are turned off. If your truck is battery-powered, make sure that the battery is not showing any signs of corrosion, leaks, or damaged connections in the wires.

  • Operating Controls

You must make sure that your brakes, steering, horn, lights, seatbelts are in good working order.


Warehouses and industrial environments pose many potential hazards to the lift truck driver. These include pedestrians, low ceilings, sharp corners, slippery surfaces, loading docks, and electrical lines. Many of these hazards can be minimized by awareness of your environment and slow, careful driving. Pedestrians should always be given the right of way. The forklift driver must always be ready to stop. It is helpful to be familiar with the route you are planning to take, but unforeseen hazards, such as pedestrians or spills, can occur on any route.

Inclines, declines and ramps pose special hazards. In these situations, the load should always be pointed uphill. Never try to turn a lift truck on an incline or decline.


Designated refueling areas are a best safety practice. These areas should have whatever emergency equipment is necessary, generally including fire extinguishers and eye-wash stations. Sparks, open flames, and smoking are prohibited in refueling areas. Refueling areas must also be well-ventilated to prevent flammable or otherwise dangerous gas buildup.

Changing Batteries:

You must be authorized to change or recharge batteries. Being qualified to drive a lift truck does not mean you are qualified to change or recharge batteries. To change a battery:

  • Position the truck in the designated area
  • Shut off the power
  • Wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Because batteries contain potentially harmful acids, it is necessary to protect yourself with PPE. When changing batteries, you must wear chemical-resistant gloves, safety glasses, footwear, and an apron.
  • Disconnect the battery.
  • Check condition. Make sure to look for missing caps or terminal covers, or damaged insulation. Make any necessary repairs before proceeding.
  • Carefully remove the battery and place it in the charging station.
  • Install the new battery.

Changing Propane Tanks:

As with changing batteries, you must be authorized to refuel a propane tank. Authorization requires unique training. To refuel:

  • Position the truck in the designated propane refueling area
  • Place the controls in neutral
  • Wear the proper PPE. Safety glasses and temperature resistant gloves are required.
  • Close the service valve and bleed the hose. The truck will stop when the hose is fully bled.
  • Shut off power.
  • Disconnect the tank from the hose and place the empty tank in a designated storage area.
  • Place the new tank in the bracket.
  • Inspect the hose. The hose must not be damaged, frayed, or misshapen.
  • Tightly connect the hose to the service valve by hand.
  • Lock the bracket down.
  • Open the valve slowly to test the seal. If you smell propane, a proper seal has not been formed.

Gasoline/Diesel Trucks

Refueling a gasoline or diesel-powered lift truck is similar to fueling a car or truck. To refuel:

  • Position the truck in the designated area. The area must be well-ventilated and have emergency fire-protection equipment nearby.
  • Wear the proper PPE. Safety glasses are required, and gloves are recommended, especially with diesel fuel.
  • Turn off the engine.
  • Place the fueling spout into the truck’s fill pipe.
  • Refill the gas tank.
  • Remove the fueling spout and return it to the holder.
  • Firmly tighten the gas tank cap.


If your lift truck needs maintenance or repairs, it is imperative to follow lockout/tagout procedures before beginning performing any maintenance. Written procedures for the trucks are required by OSHA and must follow OSHA’s 6-step procedure for the isolation of hazardous energy. However, because forklifts have different power sources, lockout procedures will not be the same for every machine.

A forklift may have several energy sources that need to be identified and locked out before work can safely begin. This includes electric, hydraulic, kinetic, and gravitational energy. If your lift truck is battery-powered, electrical lockout must be performed. The negative battery terminal connection should be removed and a plug lockout device should be applied to the energy source. If your lift truck is powered by propane tanks, all energy must be dissipated and the tank set of the “OFF” position and locked out. The hydraulic lift must always be lowered and all latent hydraulic energy must be dissipated.


Lift trucks are a common feature in many warehouses and workplaces. The presence and operation of lift trucks can pose many hazards to operators and bystanders alike; as such, it is necessary to have a detailed safety program in place. Procedures must be compliant with OSHA standard 1910.178. For more information, visit: