Forklift Safety 101: Tips for Preventing Forklift Fatalities

By Kurina Baksh
Last updated: May 15, 2024
Key Takeaways

Tips for forklift operation safety.

Forklifts are helpful machines but having them in your workplace can be risky. OSHA estimates that they cause 85 fatal accidents, 34,900 accidents resulting in serious injury, and 61,800 non-serious accidents each year.


Most of these fatalities and injuries forklifts can be attributed to the lack of safe operating procedures and the lax enforcement of safety rules, along with inadequate and insufficient training. With that in mind, here are some tips that will help you prevent a run on the forklift from turning deadly.

What Is a Forklift?

A forklift is an industrial vehicle with a power-operated fork platform at the front. This fork platform is inserted under loads to shift and move them.


Forklifts allow operators to:

  • Move heavy materials quickly and easily
  • Reduce the need for the manual handling of materials
  • Reduce the risk of certain types of musculoskeletal disorders
  • Improve operational productivity

Common Forklift Hazards

While they bring about some undeniable benefits, these are often accompanied by a fair share of hazards. Common forklift hazards include:

  • Overloading
  • Unsafe stacking
  • Speeding
  • Raised forks
  • Unauthorized operation
  • Untrained forklift operators
  • Lifting persons on the fork
  • Pedestrians working and forklifts operating in the same vicinity
  • Blind corners (find out more about dealing with blind spots in the workplace)
  • Poor ground conditions
  • Poor forklift maintenance

Top 3 Mistakes Made by Forklift Operators

Not everyone who hops onto the seat of a forklift really knows what they’re doing. Those who do, moreover, might get a little too comfortable and not take all the important care and precautions (see Safety and Overconfidence for a related discussion). Forklift operators have a lot going on around them and they need a constant heightened state of awareness to make sure everything goes well. Just one second spent distracted can have fatal consequences.

According to NIOSH, the three most common errors made by forklift operators are:

  • Not lowering the load or forks as soon as possible
  • Driving too fast
  • Not looking behind before backing up

Naturally, there are some simple fixes for these problems:

  • Try to keep the load low
  • Drive slowly
  • Always check behind before moving

But above all, it’s a matter of staying focused on the task, not letting down your guard, and remember the safety procedures.

Impacts on Business

Forklift accidents also have business costs. Accidents translate to lost days, higher costs, and disruption of the production process. Depending on the severity of the accident, employers might also need to recruit and train new staff or pay compensations.

Safety Tips for Employers

  • Train your workers. Make sure that only trained and licensed employees operate the forklifts. Develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive, written safety training program
  • Inspect and maintain forklifts. Set up a vehicle inspection and maintenance program and encourage operators to inspect their forklifts before each use
  • Regulate pedestrian flow. Where possible, keep forklift traffic separate from foot traffic. This can be achieved by designating some paths as pedestrian-only or restrict them to forklifts. Restrict the us of forklifts near washrooms, break rooms, and main exits
  • Foster a safe work environment. Conduct workplace safety inspections routinely. These inspections should be carried out by a person who can identify hazards and dangerous conditions, such as obstructions in the aisle and blind corners. Enforce safe driving practices, such as obeying speed limits and blowing the horn at intersections

Safety Tips for Operators:

  • Do not operate the forklift unless you are trained and licensed
  • Wear your seat belt at all times when operating the forklift
  • Obey the speed limit and drive slowly
  • Drive with your load tilted slightly back. Raise and lower your load only when the forklift has come to a complete stop
  • Ensure that your load is always within capacity, secured, and stable
  • Stop and sound the horn at intersections, around blind corners, and in areas of pedestrian traffic
  • Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times, especially when it is in motion
  • Wear the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) when operating the forklift
  • At the end of your shift, lower the forks, neutralize the controls, set the brakes, and shut off the engine
  • Inspect your forklift before each use and report any damages or problems to your supervisor immediately


Like most machinery, forklifts make our work far easier but using them carelessly can have very serious consequences. Keep this advice in mind and you will be on your way to making sure that no one regrets setting their forklift in motion.

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Written by Kurina Baksh

Kurina Baksh

Kurina Baksh is a Health, Safety and Environment Professional from Trinidad and Tobago. As a recent graduate in the field, she is trained to analyze and advise on a wide range of issues related to her area of expertise. Currently, she is an independent consultant who develops public outreach and education programmes for an international clientele. She strongly believes that increasing public outreach and education can promote hazard awareness and ultimately save lives.

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