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Forklift Safety Checklist & Tips

Forklift Truck Safety

The forklift truck has become the workhorse of modern warehousing operations. They allow us to move substantial loads with speed, ease, and relative safety. Forklifts, as these trucks are so often called, come in many makes, models, and sizes that can be configured with removable parts that make it possible to move just about anything in any industrial setting. Their ease of operation makes forklift operation easy to master but an operator must never forget he’s working with heavy industrial machinery that commands respect.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 100 workers every year are killed in accidents involving forklifts and 20,000 more are seriously injured. Training, licensing, and operator certification measures are so vital to forklift truck safety that private industry, the military, and government regulatory agencies at every level have developed programs to keep forklift operation as safe as possible.

CDC: Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Workers Who Operate or Work Near Forklifts

Forklift Safety Checklist

Forklift safety checklist

Caption: Use a forklift inspection checklist like this one to log daily inspections

The safest forklift is the well-maintained forklift. At the beginning of every shift, a visual inspection of every forklift to be used will improve safety and increase productivity throughout the work day. A visual inspection at the end of every shift quickly identifies any vehicles that need maintenance or require cleaning before next use.

Checklist for Visual Inspection

Forklifts are often employed in rugged conditions that leave them dirty, muddy, or covered with grime from any source. Clean machines are vital for optimum mechanical performance and safety. No one likes working in filthy conditions but dirt also hides defects that can lead to danger. Before using a forklift, consider this checklist for visual inspection:

  • Work area uncluttered and free of debris that could cause accidents
  • Any danger zones identified
  • Overhead space provides plenty of clearance and no risk of falling objects
  • Fire extinguisher in reach and ready to use
  • Engine fluids — fuel, oil, water — at workable levels
  • Battery at full charge and securely fixed to machine
  • Electrolyte levels in battery as required for maximum performance
  • No exposed battery cable wires
  • Battery cable connects firmly fixed and in sound operational state
  • Vent caps clear and free of clogs
  • All hold-downs or brackets tightly in place
  • No damaged, loose, or missing nuts, bolts, chains, hoses, or guards
  • Tires and wheels in sound working condition
  • Pneumatic tires properly inflated
  • Forks in safe working condition, no bends or cracks
  • All positioning latches fully functional
  • Carriage teeth intact with no breaks, chips, or worn areas
  • Chain anchor pins in good working order, not bent, loose, or worn
  • No evidence of leaks or drips underneath the vehicle
  • All hoses securely in place, not crimped, loose, worn, or rubbing together dangerously

Checklist for Operational Pre-Use Inspection

When conditions look good on and around the forklift, conduct an inspection to gauge how well the machine is running before tackling a day’s work. Make this checklist for operational pre-use inspection a routine part of every shift for every operator of every forklift on the job

  • The horn must be working loud enough to be heard in the workplace, no matter how loud
  • Other devices that give warning during operations must be fully functional
  • Braking system — does the pedal hold? Does the unit stop smoothly every time?
  • Parking brake holds even against minor acceleration
  • Deadman seat brake secure as operator sits and rises from the seat
  • Clutch and gears shift smoothly, with no jumps or jerks
  • Dash control panel fully operational, with all lights and gauges fully functional
  • Steering mechanism works smoothly
  • Lift mechanism works smoothly when empty forks are raised to maximum height and then lowered
  • Tilt mechanism works smoothly when mast is moved to maximum degree forward and backward
  • Cylinders and hoses free from leaks or defects
  • No unusual sounds are produced when machine is in operation

It is vitally important to make sure every person who operates a forklift is fully trained and legally qualified to do so. It is equally important to have only fully qualified personnel to service and maintain every forklift.

Forklift Operation

forklift safety checklist - forklift operation

Caption: Never use a coworker as counterweight to balance a load that’s too heavy or that must be lifted too high.

The basic function of a forklift is the same but every work environment comes with a unique set of situations and circumstances. Mastery of basic forklift operation is important but optimum safety comes when the operator knows how to effectively operate the machine in the environment where it will be put to work.

It’s human nature to minimize the danger of operating a forklift when it’s been done safely and routinely over time but accidents happen in the blink of an eye. Vigilance is required every minute of operation.


The ride’s a little bit different when a forklift is carrying a heavy load or when it’s empty. Either way, safety always comes first. The safest forklift operator will make safe driving habits such a routine part of his workday that they become effortless, no matter if traveling with a full load or not.

  • Improve forklift pedestrian safety with a forklift blue light
  • Keep all body parts inside the truck — head, hands, feet, arms, everything
  • Keep other objects inside the truck, too, including lunch boxes, overcoats, and communication devices
  • Always keep forks as low to the ground as possible
  • Keep forks tilted back whenever possible
  • Obey all workplace traffic signs
  • Turning corners — slow down, honk the horn, and be mindful of the swing of the vehicle, front and back
  • Avoid quick or sudden stops
  • Travel slowly in reverse if the load is so large it’s impossible to see over it traveling forward
  • Look only in the direction the machine is moving
  • Stay well clear of all people, other vehicles, loose objects, slick or wet spots, holes, and rough surfaces
  • Respect the truck’s blind spots, when empty and when fully loaded
  • Any time a pedestrian, another forklift, or any moving vehicle crosses or shares the intended route, always stop the forklift then lower the load as far as possible and wait till the route is clear again before resuming operation

Traveling on an Incline

Slopes and uneven work surfaces challenge forklift safety and require special maneuvers. When traveling on an incline:

  • Never attempt a turn on uneven ground; save turns for level surfaces only
  • No load? Keep forks pointed down the incline
  • Loaded? Keep loaded forks pointed uphill at all times


There’s no power steering here so driver skill is all the more important. Important steering safety skills include:

  • Turning only with the rear wheels so the front wheels need only support the load
  • Make no sharp turns
  • The heavier the load, the wider the turns
  • An overloaded fork is a dangerous fork; don’t overload it
  • Never add a counterweight to the back of the truck, especially not a human counterweight


Every forklift comes with a data plate fixed in place as handy reference for important information such as load limits. When loading a forklift:

  • Never exceed manufacturer’s recommended load limit
  • Keep the vehicle’s mast in an upright position before inserting it into a pallet
  • Make sure the fork is level before inserting it into a pallet
  • Position the load according to manufacturer recommendation
  • Never add a counterweight
  • For the most stable hauling, keep the load as close to the front wheels as possible

Raising the Load

The forklift truck is least stable when its raising the load. The higher the load, the more unstable the machine. For optimum safety:

  • Never raise or lower the fork on a moving vehicle
  • Always come to a complete stop, with brake engages, before raising the load or lowering it
  • For driver safety, never lift a load that will extend higher than the fork’s backrest
  • Check for adequate overhead clearance before lifting the load
  • Be mindful of obstructions or other loads along the travel path
  • Avoid overhead power lines at all times
  • For traveling stability, life the load first up, then tilted back slightly before moving it
  • Make sure forks are free before traveling in reverse
  • Never abandon a loaded forklift, especially if the load is in a raised position
  • Keep people off the lift, whether loaded or unloaded
  • Keep people out from under the lift, whether it’s loaded or unloaded

Handling Pallets

Pallets and forklifts work together like locks and keys but it’s not a fool-proof union. Caution in handling pallets is required for speed, efficiency, and to minimize the risk of accidents.

  • Adjust forks to fit pallets before inserting them
  • Make sure the load is balanced and stable before beginning the lift
  • Make sure the forks are completely under the pallet before beginning the lift
  • Never adjust the load, the forklift or truck, or the surrounding area once the fork is loaded
  • Never transfer a palletized load from one raised forklift to another

Loading or Unloading Straight Trucks, Tractor Trailers, Railway Cars

Tightly packed cargo, cramped spaces, and uneven or unsteady work surfaces make loading or unloading straight trucks, tractor trailers, railway cars, and other moveable cargo carriers exceptionally risky business. This is never the work of a rookie, never a training ground. Only highly skilled, well-trained forklift operators should attempt work in these environments.

Prepare the vehicle before loading or unloading begins. Be sure to:

  • Post warning signs on all sides of the work area
  • Verify the floor of the vehicle is strong enough to support the weight of the cargo, the forklift, and its operator
  • Verify the dock plate or on / off ramp is securely fixed in place and can support the weight of the cargo, the forklift, and its operator
  • Firmly set all the vehicle’s brakes
  • Chock all wheels with a wedge or block
  • If the trailer is uncoupled, in a stand-alone setting, secure it with fixed jacks for added stability
  • Ensure proper lighting
  • Make sure points of ingress / egress are clear of obstruction and clearly marked inside and outside the vessel
  • Inspect the work area and clear away all debris, clutter, or obstructions and clean up any spills or wet spots that could trigger an accident
  • Install non-slip material to floors that suggest potential risk
  • Make sure the cargo storage zone is clear of obstruction, with all edges clearly marked
  • Mark load and cargo storage areas with reflective tape if working at night or in dimly lit environments
  • Do not work in a cargo container with holes in the floor

During the loading or unloading process:

  • Stay as far away from all edges of docks, ramps, or elevated doorways as possible
  • Never try to move the vessel with the forklift
  • Work only in well-ventilated work zones
  • Keep dock plate and ramps clean and clear of clutter at all times
  • Work slowly and carefully for maximum safety
  • Never spin the lift truck’s wheels

Special measures are necessary for working safely around railway cars:

  • Always cross the track on a diagonal
  • Make sure hand brakes, derailer, and wheel blocks are in place before entering the car
  • Open railway car doors properly, never with the forks of the lift truck
  • Park forklift at least ten feet away from track when not in use

Entering An Elevator with a Forklift Truck

Freight elevators can save a lot of time and travel bus command special respect when loading and unloading heavy machinery from them. Always obtain proper authorization before entering an elevator with a forklift truck and use them safely:

  • Before entry, verify the elevator can support the weight of the cargo, the forklift, and its operator
  • Work slowly and cautiously
  • Allow ample room for elevator doors to open
  • Enter the elevator squarely, never at an angle
  • Once inside, neutralize all controls
  • Turn the forklift’s engine off
  • Set all forklift truck brakes


Even parked forklifts are dangerous if they’re not properly exited. For forklift truck safety round the clock, please:

  • Park in designated parking areas only
  • Before leaving the truck, be sure to:
  • Firmly set all brakes
  • Lower forks and/or load to the ground
  • Turn all controls to neutral or off settings
  • Turn off the motor
  • Disconnect battery cables
  • Follow safety procedures to shut off propane fuel supply

Technological advances and government regulations make working with forklifts safer to operate with each new design or each new labor law but, ultimately, forklift truck safety depends on the operator. Respect is required at all times — respect for the machine, respect for the work, respect for the workplace, and respect of the operator and all coworkers in the work zone.

One way to keep a forklift safe is to keep it functioning. Shop by forklift brand to find the part you need today! Review our blog for more safety tips.

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