Forklift Safety: How to Avoid One of OSHA’s Top Violations

OSHA estimates that 1 million forklifts are used in workplaces across the country. Forklifts are not only among the most common types of motorized equipment, they are also the cause of some of the most serious workplace accidents.

Forklift safety is—or at least should be—a major concern in the large majority of U.S. workplaces. That’s because most industrial facilities use forklifts, and more than 20,000 injuries related to forklifts occur each year.

More than a few forklift accidents result in the death of the operator or another employee.

Employees are often injured or killed when forklifts:

  • Drive off loading docks
  • Fall between docks and an unsecured trailer
  • Tip over
  • Drop loads
  • Strike employees working nearby

Workers are also injured when they fall off forklifts, often when hitching rides or being elevated on the forks—both violations of safety rules. Battery charging and fueling accidents also claim victims.

Most incidents involve property damage as well as injuries, including damage to overhead sprinklers, racking, pipes, walls, materials, and machinery.

According to OSHA, most employee injuries and property damage can be attributed to:

  • Lack of safe operating procedures
  • Inconsistent or nonexistent safety rule enforcement
  • Insufficient or inadequate training

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Train for Safety

Violations of OSHA’s powered industrial truck standard rank in the top 10 most frequently violated OSHA standards each year. In 2009, OSHA issued over 2,909 citations, most of which were related to training. Total penalties were close to $2 million.

To meet OSHA requirements and avoid citations and penalties, operators need to be well trained. OSHA’s standard has specific requirements for operator training that require a combination of formal training with practical instruction, as well as an evaluation and certification process.

The standard also says that only those who have the knowledge, training, and experience on the type of forklift being trained on can provide this training. It also specifies a long list of required training topics. Trainers should refer to the OSHA standard to make sure all the required subject matter is covered.

Once trained, operators need refresher training and evaluation at least every      3 years, and more often for operators who have a record of accidents or near-misses.

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Forklift Operator Evaluation

When evaluating forklift operators’ competence following training, be sure to include the following points:

Preshift Inspection

  • Left side: neutral, key off, brake set, forks down, wheels straight, nameplate
  • Front: forks smooth, locking pins, sideshift, backrest, mast grease, chains, hose, sideshift cylinder
  • Left: tilt cylinder, tires, lugnuts, overhead guard
  • Propane trucks: oils, coolant, brake and hydraulic fluid, fan and belt, radiator
  • Rear: counterbalance bolts, radiator, propane bottle, hose, clamps
  • Right: tires, lugnuts, overhead guard, battery connector
  • Seat: gauges, lights, horn, tilt, lift mechanism (chain, hose), parking brake
  • Seat belt: on
  • Moving: running brake, steering


  • Body inside truck
  • Proper truck positioning
  • Smooth acceleration, deceleration, turns
  • Vision in travel direction
  • Forks at lowest height

Picking up a Load

  • Correct mast angle
  • Lifts then tilts back
  • Does not push load
  • Load against back of forks or attachment
  • Forks lowered immediately
  • Checks rear twice before backing out

Depositing a Load

  • Tilts level then lowers
  • Places load squarely
  • Mast at 90 degrees
  • Lowers forks immediately
  • Checks rear twice before backing out


  • Wheels straight
  • Forks lowered
  • Parking brake on
  • Power off, propane valve shut off
  • 3-point exit and entrance

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