Forklift operation is serious business—one wrong decision by an inexperienced driver can cause catastrophic injury to people and equipment. By training your workforce on proper forklift operation, not only are you keeping your employees safe, but you’re also preventing workers’ compensation claims.

For some companies, forklift operation is necessary to keep business processes moving. If an untrained employee causes the truck to tip over, drops a load or causes a vital part of the machinery to break, those processes are disrupted. A loss in output means a loss in revenue.

So, it’s a good idea to develop a simple yet comprehensive training program that ensures all forklift drivers understand the risks involved, the parts of the machine and what to do during emergencies. This article will introduce you to four topics that must be addressed during that training period:

1. Pre-Operation Checklist:

Forklift drivers should answer these questions before turning on the machine:

•    Are “no-go” zones marked with fences and signs?
•    Is there a sufficient amount of ventilation and lighting to work safely?
•    Is there a lot of noise around that may impair your ability to hear?
•    Are road surfaces even and clear of obstacles?
•    Are rail tracks and ramps in place?
•    Are there overhead structures, such as fittings, cables, power lines or low doorways?
•    Are there any other obstructions?
•    Are there dry or wet areas? Spills?
•    Are the loading docks clear? Do they have edge protection?
•    Is there sufficient room on storage racking or capacity?
•    Are the forklift-operating paths wide enough?
•    Are there any areas that are congested?
•    Are there any blind spots?
•    Will there be any interactions with traffic or pedestrians during operation?

2. Workplace Injury Prevention:

Workers Can Do the Following to Prevent Injury:

•    Position the forklift arms lower to ground level.
•    Ensure the parking brake is set.
•    Make sure all controls are in neutral.
•    Do not jump from the forklift.
•    Maintain three points of contact when you get on and off the forklift.
•    Minimize the amount of times you need to get on and off the truck.
•    Make sure to park and work in well-lit areas so your vision is not obstructed, and you can see the road surfaces, traffic and pedestrians.
•    Forklifts should be fitted with anti-slip surfaces and grab-rails.

3. Basic Safety Tips:

Here are a few safety tips for basic forklift operation:

•    Only use the forklift for its intended purposes.
•    Wear a seatbelt.
•    Obey speed limits.
•    Obey warning signs.
•    Drive at speeds suitable for the traffic conditions and road surfaces.
•    Wear safety glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from debris and dust.
•    Use extra caution when driving on ramps and inclines.
•    Report damaged racking to the supervisor.
•    Slow down and sound off the horn before driving through a doorway or before entering a busy aisle.
•    Always travel at a safe distance behind other vehicles or forklifts.
•    Be aware of blind spots.
•    Do not reach through the mast or place parts of your body outside of the forklift.
•    Be aware of hazards, such as electrical cables and power lines.

4. People and Forklifts:

When workers become too comfortable around industrial machinery, they might make a careless decision—like letting passengers ride in the forklift. Here are a few guidelines that should be addressed regarding the interaction between people and forklifts:

•    Do not carry passengers on forklifts that are not designed to do so.
•    Do not raise people on the fork pallets or arms.
•    Be conscious of people working around the truck.
•    Do not allow people near stacked loads.
•    Do not allow people to be around a forklift while it is being loaded or unloaded.

If you’re training employees about proper forklift operation, it’s important that the lessons don’t stop when the training period ends. Make sure workers don’t get complacent by occasionally testing their knowledge. Ask them questions about proper operation at employee meetings, and encourage them to suggest ways to make the workplace more safe and productive.

Tom Reddon is a Forklift Specialist for National Forklift Exchange and sits on the MHEDA Executive Dialogue Board.  You can read his workplace safety and forklift blog or connect with him via Twitter @TomReddon.

Pat Brownlee wrote: