A guide to operate a forklift in a warehouse

An article written by: Lee Sonogan

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I have a license to operate a forklift truck. What is the definition of a forklift? A forklift truck is a vehicle with a pronged device in front for lifting and carrying heavy loads. There are many variations of different forklifts. Using a forklift can be very dangerous, but very useful in the daily activities of a warehouse and more. In 2013, the top 20 manufacturers worldwide posted sales of $30.4 billion, with 944,405 machines sold. This guide will tell you what you need to know in safety and operation for the theory and practice tests to get your licence.

Driving a forklift is very different then a car. Firstly the vehicle drives from its two back wheels. Using its rear wheels allows it to turn in a very tight circle. Learning to turn correctly is the first thing you will need to know when you get to drive. More than half of operating a forklift is safety. A warehouse is like a mini road with more potential hazards. The forks and a load on the forks of the forklift are also a potential hazard. Before even sitting in a forklift you must do a pre start up check of the vehicle. Then when you are finished, a post start up check.

Obvious actions you should never do while using a forklift:
  • Using one fork to pick something up
  • Operating forklifts that need repair
  • Using forklifts as tow trucks
  • Leaving forklifts running while not in use
  • Leaving the keys in the forklift while turned off
  • Forklift racing
  • Driving while intoxicated
  • Driving with an elevated load
  • Driving over a hazard
  • Ignoring safety recommendations to do the job more quickly
  • Forklift jousting
  • Turning on ramps
  • Using a fork light for anything other than its intended purpose

For the theory test you must memorize every part of the forklift and more. Researching and practising is a must. This gives you the necessary information for use of a forklift or if an incident would happen. The data plate on the forklift tells you important information about the forklift you are using. It tells you the forklift’s load capacity and more. A forklift’s load capacity is determined as the maximum weight that a forklift is able to safely carry at a specified load centre. Stacked loads high above could be uneven in proportion and dangerous to pick up if you do not see it.

Now lets talk about picking up stacked loads onto the forks of the forklift. Forklift forks are usually long enough to pick up pallets with various amounts of stacked loads on them. There is three options to use the forks. Up and down, side to side and the tilt option. While driving, the forks must be lowered to just above the ground while being positioned in 90 degrees from the ground. I do not recommend using side to side. When you slowly put forks into a pallet you should aim for the centre of it every time. Sometimes side to side could be used to adjust the loads centre of gravity slighty.

You must pick up stacked loads in high places very slowly when you reverse back from it. Be aware where the load is going and it does not hit anything. Same as putting something away in a high place when you raise and place a stacked load. Once a stacked load is picked up, and lowered to just off the floor, you can tilt the load back towards the forklift. Then you have a secure load. It may block your view in driving forward, so take it slow. Same as not turning on a ramp, you must not go down a ramp with a secure load. Take the stacked load to its new location and give way to any other vehicle that may be coming your way.

Other key information you may need to know for the test:

  • Workplace Health & Safety legislation
  • The correct clothing you must wear
  • The hierarchy of hazard controls
  • What are the guards that protect the operator?
  • What should you do if the forklift tips over?
  • Where you should be able to park the forklift
  • Math skills to read the data plate and see if a stacked load would be too heavy
  • Information specific to the use of a forklift other than the average model forklift (Depends on what kind of forklift licence you are going for.)

In conclusion, you must be qualified or in training to use a forklift. You need to be a expect on safety and operation of a forklift to pass the test. Know you hazards, loads, pre and post operation, safety recommendations and most of all use common sense. Remember the theory test may be easier for you then getting used to the forklift at first. Timing getting the forks in correctly will improve in time. Do not give up and you could beat the two tests in one day. It took me 2 and a half days to get my forklift licence. Last thought, do not be one of the people in the video below.

Here is some links to my book for sale:

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