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How Not to Drive a Forklift

Forklift surrounded by pallets

Most of us who have worked in warehouses for a long time have seen a lot of examples of bad practice. 

Some are slightly dangerous, and some are extremely dangerous, but all of them should be avoided.  If you are a forklift driver, here are a few of the things you should avoid:

Before you start

  1. Don’t even think about driving a forklift you are not trained to drive. You should have a certificate for the right category and have familiarisation training on the particular model, including any optional extras.
  2. If you are trained, and your company issues cards or key codes to qualified drivers, don’t lend your card or code to anyone else. Remember that if they have an accident whilst using your ID, you will be the one who gets the blame.
  3. Don’t drive a gas or diesel truck where there is not enough ventilation and the emissions will cause a health hazard. Also think about the product in the warehouse.  Don’t drive a gas truck if there is fresh-baked bread in the area – it will make the bread taste of propane fumes and will not make you popular with whoever eats it.
  4. Don’t try to “outwit” any safety features. For example, some trucks will sound an alarm if you drive off without fastening your seat belt.  Some drivers try to tighten up the seat belt, fasten it across the seat, then sit on top of it.  This obviously means that the seat belt is completely useless – and to have a buckle digging into certain parts of your anatomy will be pretty uncomfortable too.
  5. Do not remove the backrest extension, overhead guard, or any other item of safety equipment.
  6. If you are using man-up equipment (sorry about the politically incorrect name) do not start your shift unless you know how you will get down in the event of mechanical failure, including what will happen in the event of a fire. Can you imagine being stuck 8 metres in the air on a high-level order picker, and everyone else then leaves the building when the fire alarm goes off?  It may seem like a scene from a low budget disaster movie, but it could happen.
  7. If you are driving your forklift into vehicles, don’t do so unless you are sure that the vehicle cannot be driven away. There are various ways of achieving this, from taking away the driver’s keys (make sure he gives you the right ones and not those to a clapped out yard shunter his firm scrapped 2 years ago), to wheel clamps.  Accidents where a forklift falls between a trailer and a loading dock can be very nasty, and far too often fatal.
  8. Don’t start work until you have carried out a pre-use inspection of the forklift – you should be provided with an inspection record form, either a paper version or electronic equivalent. If you find a fault, report it to the supervisor, and get them to countersign the form. If it is a serious fault, remove the keys from the truck and attach a danger flag.  Never remove a danger flag from a truck and start driving it just because the warehouse is getting busy – there is no point in having danger flags if people are going to do that.

Driving

  1. Do not get on or off the truck without facing towards it, and without maintaining three points of contact. Most certainly do not jump.
  2. Do not move off until you have had a good look around. It may be true that no-one is permitted in the area so there should be no-one behind you but do not rely on this – there may be some idiot from the office who thinks the rules do not apply to them.  At the other extreme, some people who work much of the time in warehouses unconsciously block out reversing alarms and become oblivious to them. In either case, you need to make sure you do not hit anyone.
  3. Do not move with fingers, arms, legs or any other part of the body outside the truck. If you have to lean out, stop and look around first.
  4. Do not try to dodge around obstructions, or drive over debris or rubbish. Remove it, and by all means complain to whoever left it there (but remember to be polite if it was the boss).
  5. Do not look anywhere except in the direction of travel. Something else happening may be interesting but do not let it distract you.
  6. Do not drive if the load is blocking your view. If you have to, travel in reverse.
  7. Do not drive with loads lifted further above the ground than you need to.
  8. Do not ignore signs and floor markings – designated walkways are there for good reasons.
  9. If you are driving a counterbalance on an incline with a load, do not do so unless the load is facing uphill; when travelling without a load, do not do so unless the forks are facing downhill.
  10. Do not turn or drive across a slope.
  11. Do not go through a door, drive under lights, or enter a container unless you are sure that the mast and load will clear the obstruction. Be especially careful near overhead power lines.
  12. Do not carry passengers unless there is a proper seat and seatbelt.

Lifting a load

  1. Do not lift any load unless you have assessed it first. Check its weight, size and load centre, that it has secure banding or wrapping on a pallet, and that it is in good enough condition to be lifted. A pallet which is in poor condition and collapses when you try to lift it is not good news.
  2. When assessing the weight of the load relative to the lift capacity of your truck, don’t forget that the lift capacity is reduced if the load centre is further away from the mast and/or the load is lifted to a height. For example, a truck may be rated at 2,000 Kg, but this probably assumes a load centre distance of no more than 500 mm. This might fall to less than 1,300 kg if the load centre is at 1 metre; to approximately 750 kg if the load raised to 7 metres; and to less than 500 kg if the load centre is at 1 metre and the load raised to 7 metres. There should be information on your truck covering all permutations.
  3. Don’t forget that lifting aids, such as side shift, slings or barrel clamps, will also affect the lift capacity.
  4. Don’t start the lift unless the forks are fully inserted.
  5. Do not lift anybody on the forks, or on a pallet on the forks.
  6. Do not allow people to walk under a raised load.
  7. Never add an additional counterweight to the rear of the vehicle in an attempt to increase load capacity (see also below).
  8. Do not use two forklifts to lift one load, unless a competent person has made a careful plan and assessed the risk.

After you have stopped

  1. Do not get off the truck until you have applied the hand brake (or automated parking brake if appropriate).
  2. Do not park on a footpath or in front of a doorway, and especially not in front of a fire exit or fire extinguishers. Do not park near a radiator or other heat source. 
  3. Do not park on a slope unless you have to; if you do have to, use wheel chocks.
  4. Do not smoke when refuelling. Better still, do not smoke at all.
  5. Do not change battery packs unless you know and abide by the correct procedures. This should include changing packs only on unladen trucks, in designated areas, and on a level surface.
  6. Do not change battery packs, or top-up or carry out other maintenance on batteries, without wearing the correct PPE.

If you do have an accident

If you are on a seated truck and do feel it tipping over, stay within the confines of the cab.  Brace yourself by pressing your feet on the floor and holding tight on the steering wheel or overhead guard – but take care not to get your fingers trapped between the guard and the ground.  Lean away from the direction the forklift is tipping. 

DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE YOUR SEATBELT AND DO NOT JUMP!

Finally

I recall one incident when I was a young man.  I have always been large, and when a forklift driver needed to lift a heavy load, in excess of the truck’s rated capacity, I was instructed to sit on the rear of the truck behind the gas cylinder to add an additional counterbalance.  Luckily, I was not hurt, but if this incident were repeated today it is probable that I, the driver, and the supervisor would all have been subject to serious disciplinary action.

Please drive your forklift safely, and do not do anything as stupid as what I have just described.