How Much Do You Know About Forklift Safety?

Aug. 2, 2005
What should you do if you're driving a forklift and it starts to tip over? Is it safer to stay in the vehicle, or to jump out quickly?

If you said, "Jump out," you'd be dead wrong: a driver who did that would be putting his or her life in jeopardy. The safest way to survive a tip-over is to stay in the vehicle, seat belt always fastened, with a tight grip on the steering wheel and feet braced against the floor, leaning forward and away from the direction of the tip-over.

Because forklifts are everyday equipment in warehouses, factories and other businesses nationwide, many people may not realize they can be potentially dangerous. "Driving a forklift requires special skills and knowledge," said Benjamin Mangan, president and founder of MANCOMM, Davenport, Iowa. MANCOMM develops and provides Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance safety products and training for general industry and construction. "It scares me how little training some forklift operators receive. It's every company's responsibility to make sure their forklift operators are properly trained and certified before they ever get to run a forklift in the workplace."

The following accident examples from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reveal the three most common types of forklift injury: forklift overturns; workers struck, crushed or pinned by a forklift; and falls from a forklift.

Forklift Overturn: The president of a sign company was killed while using a forklift to unload steel tubing from a flatbed trailer. He turned the forklift behind the trailer, and the forklift began to tip over on its side. So he jumped from the operator's seat to the driveway. When the forklift overturned, his head and neck became pinned to the concrete driveway under the overhead guard. The forklift was not in proper working order and was not equipped with a seat belt.

Worker Struck by Forklift: A punch press operator at a computer components manufacturer was fatally injured while performing her usual duties. A forklift was traveling in reverse at high speed toward her work station. A witness observed the forklift strike a metal scrap bin, propelling it toward the punch press station. The bin hit the press and rebounded toward the forklift. There it was hit once again and shoved back against the corner of the press, striking and crushing the punch press operator.

Fall from Forklift: An electric-line technician was fatally injured after falling from and being run over by a forklift. While the operator was driving the forklift, the technician was riding on the forks. As the operator approached an intersection, he slowed down and turned his head to check for oncoming traffic. When he looked to the front again, he could not see the technician. He stopped the forklift, dismounted, and found the technician under the right side of the forklift.

A Forklift Safety Awareness Quiz

How familiar are you with forklifts and their safe operation? Take this quiz and find out. These questions are taken from the MANCOMM Forklift Video Series trainer's instruction manual:

1.) It is very easy to tip over on ramps and sloped surfaces whether the forklift is loaded or unloaded.

a.) True. b.) False.

2.) When driving on ramps with a grade of 10 percent or more with a loaded forklift, you must always keep the load uphill, even if it means driving in reverse down the ramp.

a.) True. b.) False.

3.) Because a forklift weighs more, it is much easier to brake to a stop than an automobile.

a.) True. b.) False.

4.) A forklift driver must always look:

a.) In the mirrors.
b.) Around his/her load.
c.) In the direction of travel.
d.) Forward.

5.) What should you do when you approach an intersection?

a.) Slow down and sound the horn.
b.) Check for hazards by leaning out of the cab.
c.) Turn slowly and smoothly.
d.) Get through as quickly as possible.

6.) To lift people using a forklift, the operator must:

a.) Lift people with bare forks.
b.) Use a pallet to provide a platform.
c.) Move a truck near a wall for fall protection.
d.) None of the above.

7.) When forward visibility is obstructed or blocked:

a.) Look around the load.
b.) Proceed forward slowly and with due caution.
c.) Drive in reverse.
d.) None of the above.

8.) Never enter a trailer or railroad car unless:

a.) The watchman is present.
b.) The forkliftís fuel tank and battery are fully charged.
c.) The trailer or railcar is locked in place with wheel chocks.
d.) There is a spotter inside the trailer or railroad car.

9.) A forklift operator's first concern should be:

a.) Increasing the speed of loading and unloading.
b.) Making sure the vehicle is in safe working condition.
c.) Checking shift changes for the load/unload schedule.
d.) Stabilizing the forks on all trucks used in a shift.

10.) Which of the following is a warning sign that the forklift may need to be taken out of service and repaired?

a.) Leaks for the fuel system.
b.) A brake pedal that feels spongy.
c.) Exhaust fumes that make you feel sick.
d.) All of the above.

How many wrong answers are permissible? In the workplace: zero. Whenever forklift drivers perform their duties incorrectly, such incidents open the door to accidents, injuries or death, which in turn can lead to workers' compensation expenses, lost productivity, raised insurance premiums, lowered employee morale, and penalties from OSHA. "When every forklift operator at your company has passed a training and certification program that observes OSHA regulations," said Mangan, "you've taken a major step toward fostering a safer workplace."

For more information, visit

Answers to Quiz: 1.) a. 2.) a. 3.) b. 4.) c. 5.) a. 6.) d. 7.) c. 8.) c. 9.) b. 10.) d.

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