Driving a Forklift for the First TimeDriving a forklift seems easy but make no mistake, forklifts cause thousands of injuries every year according to statistics, many of them are serious and fatal.

I have to warn you, if this is your first time driving a forklift, the first thing you have to bear in mind is that you are not allowed to set your feet on the pedals and your hands on the controls if you don’t have such training. Only trained individual is permitted to operate the truck. If you don’t undergo a training yet, operation of it is strictly prohibited.

You have to be accompanied by someone who is authorized to give forklift training. The very least thing you want to happen is to commit mistake that could lead to a serious accident and this can happen if it is your first time driving the equipment, so have someone who will train you to properly operate the forklift.

The rule is simple - driving for the first time can only take place during a practical training of the certification process where you can be accompanied by the instructor because it is much more risky for you if you haven’t driven a forklift before.

How to Operate a Forklift for the First Time

Learning to operate a forklift takes guts and skills. If you have never driven this equipment before, let’s assume you intend to drive a counterbalance, the most common type of forklift, these steps will get you started.

    1. Prior to driving, while the engine is not running, you have to inspect the physical condition of the equipment. Inspect the fluid levels such the oil and water, if they’re in optimum quantity and also check if the hydraulic fluid is not leaking from the hoses, its hydraulics is what power the forks to lift heavy loads; check the tires, tires with worn out threads need to be replaced, they create hazardous situation during driving since forklift has no shock absorbers the full weight of the truck and the load being lifted press directly onto it. See the video below for full details.

  1. Also make sure that there is enough fuel, if the forklift is combustion engine or LPG-powered, or has enough charge if the truck is electric. These are some of the aspects need to be done during pre-operation, see your truck’s pre-operational checklist. The operators should perform inspections for pre-operation while engine is off and operation while engine is running. Here's an article on 10 Useful Ways of Refuelling Diesel or Petrol-Powered Forklift.

  2. Understand the operational controls of the equipment and its meters or gauges. To be able how the forklift functions, you must understand the levers, controls and meter reading of the equipment. You need to know also how to get a good grip the steering wheel of the counterbalance truck and how to use the spinner knob, if the truck is fitted with one. Know also the switches and warning lights so that you know what their uses are. You will learn these items during the classroom training.

  3. Start the machine on. Starting the forklift is basically the same as starting a car. Once the engine is running, test the controls and levers, move the forks up and down, slowly move the forklift forward and reverse, just familiarize yourself how it operates. Be aware of the movement and speed of the forklift and its turning radius.

  4. Start picking up an empty pallet to become familiarized how to lift a load. Ensure that the forks are in proper position are in line with the load or pallet to be picked up. Slowly approach the pallet until the forks are correctly in place. Then raise the forks 5 to 10 centimeters from the ground, tilt the mast fully backward to stabilize the load, move the pallet to desired location.

  5. Carrying the pallet and setting down in the desired location. Once you transported the pallet to desired place, slowly set the forks down, untilt the mast to original position, slowly move the forklift in reverse, make sure nothing or no one is behind when reversing. It is easy to cause an accident if it is your first time driving the forklift.

Here’s a video of a reach forklift truck explaining every details of its operation

After watching the video, browse these topics to learn the differnt aspects of maintaining safety in the workplace:

During the first time driving, you have to understand first the technical aspects of the Forklift

Forklifts perform very different from other heavy equipment or automobiles in the way they can are driven. With just a wrong move, it can cause accident to the operator himself and to others. Workers who have never driven one before should take the necessary training prior to operation. They have to understand the different technical aspects of the machine as mentioned below. Take note of the location and particular function of each control.

Understand forklift operational controls

  • Directional control – this control allows the operator to select which direction he wants to go, either in forward direction in reverse. Directional control can be steering-mounted or foot-operated depending on the make and model of the forklift.
  • Forks control lever – it makes the forks go up and down; when pulled back, it raises the forks while when pushed forward, it lowers the forks.
  • Tilt lever – it controls the angle of the forks; when the forklift is travelling with load, this lever tilts the forks backward to make the handling of the load stable. Pushing this lever makes the forks tilt forward; pulling the lever makes the forks tilt backward.
  • Parking brake – just like a car, forklift is equipped with parking brake. Its function is to keep the position in stable stationary position when parked or on an incline. When the machine is not in used and when parked, make sure that the parking brake is engaged.
  • Acceleration pedal – gives acceleration when pressed, it acts the same way as in your car.
  • Brake pedal – it is self explanatory; its function is the same as your car.
  • Clutch pedal – in some types of forklift, the truck is equipped with clutch to control the power of the engine and movement of the machine.

Know the equipment’s turning radius

If the forklift is for indoor use, the truck’s turning radius tends to be tighter for better maneuverability and convenient driving in confined and snug spaces. Since turning radius differs between types and models, knowing this will give you better understanding how to operate the forklift safely.

Know the forklift’s load capacity

The truck load capacity is the maximum weight of the load that it can carry in a specified load center. If the load is not properly laden in an exact position on the forks while being lifted or transported, the load capacity that the truck can handle is considerably decreased. Read this article on: How Can I Tell How Much Weight A Forklift Will Pick Up

The load dimension, placement of the load on the forks, weight distribution and extension (if it is fitted with an extension or attachment) affect the machine’s capacity. Only load within the load capacity of the forklift can be handled other it is at risk of tipping over accident. If the equipment can only carry a 1,000 lbs of weight in a specified load center, you shall not exceed to that. For more information on how to calculate load capacity, see this article.

If you are unsure how much load the forklift can handle, see the dataplate, it shows the load capacity and other information such as lift height, load center distance, truck weight, type, the model number of the forklift and the brand.

Know its limitations and stability triangle

Knowing the stability triangle is one the basics you must understand in driving a counterbalance forklift. To maintain the stability (longitudal, lateral and dynamic) of the forklift during lifting of heavy load, the forklift operator must be able to locate the center of gravity and make sure it falls within the triangle. The stability triangle extends from the front axles of the truck up to the center of the rear wheels. To better comprehend, stability triangle, see this link.

Be familiar with the truck’s intended purpose

As a general rule of thumb, the forklift should not be utilized to other unintended purpose. Misusing the vehicle can post serious danger if it operated to the purpose it is not intended to. Never use the equipment other than to the specified purpose it is meant for.

What to do if it is your first time driving the forklift

Ask questions and talk to the trainer if you are not sure what to do - The trainer is always there to guide you. It is Ok to talk to him and question if you have any. Prior to driving, if you have something you want to clarify, ask it to the trainer before riding the forklift. If you are already on board and driving and you don’t know what to do, stop the forklift, then ask for help. Don’t be shy asking someone about what to do.

Stay calm and have focus – being calm and focused can give you a clear state of mind, you don’t what to suffer stress and anxiety during driving, it can make you think foolishly that could lead to committing mistake, a mistake that could cause accident. Create a relaxed mind during forklift driving; if you are calm, you tend to remember what you have learned from the instructor. It is always best to have a trusted instructor overseeing your performance. It is much less scary if you know you have someone there to help you.

Compose yourself and be comfortable – when you get board on the forklift, feel the controls and pedals, if you are having difficulty reaching them; adjust your seat to make it snugly. You can compose yourself if you are comfy on the seat. Staying comfortable on the seat makes you calm down during this nerve-rattling forklift driving experience. You can also wear loose clothes but not loose that it could snag onto something. You need to be comfortable throughout the driving period. Proper wearing of PPE does provide additional safety if you are driving for the forklift in an actual work environment. Wear safety glasses, gloves, hard hat, and steel-toed shoes.

Keep your eyes peeled and open

There are a lot of hazards in the workplace; unfortunately these hazards attract accident if you don’t pay attention to them. Keep your eyes open at all times and take note of the possible hazards when you are operating. Keep your eyes on the blind spots during driving; know the weight of the load you’re lifting it should not exceed the machine’s capacity, see the dataplate of the truck to know the capacity; observe the speed limit in the workplace, the speed limit of the truck when travelling varies, but generally it should not exceed 20 kph when driving outdoor and 10 kph when indoor; pedestrians and other workers who are occupying the same area you are driving also pose safety hazard, they have to be aware of the forklift operation activities you are doing; other vehicles also pose hazard, be aware of their location . The safety hazards vary; these that I mentioned are common in every workplace.

Get rid of the distractions

Driving the forklift when distracted is a recipe to disaster, particularly if this is the first time driving the forklift. Put away your mobile phone and other device, you don’t want to put your attention out of what you are doing when they ring. The workplace can have many moving vehicles and pedestrians, they could be in close proximity to where you are, you would not want to get distracted by them, you need to be able to react when they come very close to prevent accident. 

To Make a Summary 

Driving a forklift for the first can be a daunting task for someone who is yet to understand how to operate this equipment. You need to take extra precaution when the handling the truck if you haven’t driven one before.
The forklift training is an essential aspect getting educated. Enrol in the course at the technical school, there you will know the different aspects on how to drive the forklift safely and efficiently. You should not attempt to drive a forklift if you don’t have any prior knowledge; you are attracting accident to happen.


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