How to Operate a Forklift – The Complete Guide

16 Nov, 2022

9 min read


  • Learn the initial safety checks before getting started
  • Understand how to drive the forklift correctly
  • Avoid costly accidents by following these simple rules

Operating a forklift can seem daunting to someone who has never done it before, but with the right information, and proper training it can be easy! In this guide, we will walk you through everything you need to know to operate a forklift safely and efficiently. We’ll cover topics such as how to inspect a forklift for safety, how to lift and carry loads, and how to navigate tight spaces. So whether you’re an experienced operator or just starting, this guide has something for everyone!

The 3 Things You Need Before You Can Operate A Forklift

To be a forklift operator and operate a forklift safely and legally in the UK you need:

  • To be 18 years or older;
  • To have completed a forklift training course, and 
  • To have a valid forklift licence.

If you don’t have all 3 of these things, then you won’t be able to operate a forklift. If you’re not sure whether or not you need a licence, the best thing to do is to check with your employer. In most cases, they will be able to tell you whether or not you need a licence to operate the forklift. Be aware that there are different licences for the different types of forklift trucks and the different classes of forklift.

Preparation And Safety Checks

When you are preparing to operate a forklift there are a few things you should do.

Inspect The Forklift For Safety

The first thing you should do is inspect the forklift for safety. This means checking things like the brakes, tyres, and steering. You should also make sure that there are no loose parts or damage to the forks.

If you notice anything that doesn’t look right, don’t try to fix it yourself. report it to your supervisor so they can have it repaired by a qualified technician.

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Check The Load

The next thing you need to do is check the pallet load. Make sure that it is the correct weight and not too big for the forklift. Also check for loose objects or any materials that could fall off during transport. If you’re not sure, ask! It’s always better to be 100% sure the forklift will be able to handle the heavy load you want to move before you even start the truck.

Check Your Surroundings

The last thing you should do before you start the forklift is to check your surroundings. Make sure that any people or obstacles are a safe distance away and not in your direction of travel. If everything looks good, you’re ready to start the truck!

Ensure You Are Wearing Appropriate Clothing

Depending on your work environment the term appropriate clothing may be slightly different but for a forklift truck driver this normally means that you should be wearing:

  • Sturdy shoes that are slip resistant
  • Long pants (no skirts or shorts)
  • A long-sleeved shirt
  • A high-visibility jacket

This is to ensure that you are protected from the elements and any potential hazards while operating the forklift.

Starting The Forklift

Now that you’ve done all of the safety checks, it’s time to start the forklift. The first thing you need to do is put on your seatbelt. Then, turn on the engine and release the parking brake. Always ensure your arms, legs and feet are inside the forklift at all times.

Now you’re ready to start driving! The first thing you need to do is move the forks down so they are resting on the ground. This will help stabilise the truck as you’re driving.

Don’t forget to always be aware of what is around you as you’re driving. This includes things like pedestrians and obstacles. If you need to stop suddenly, make sure you use the brakes slowly so you don’t tip the truck over.

Driving The Forklift

When you’re driving the forklift, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. 

  • Be aware of the travel conditions, ensuring you are aware of things like slippery floors will help with safe operation and if you don’t feel safe with the travel conditions make your supervisor aware straight away.
  • Always keep the forks as close to the floor as possible, and be aware of your truck length and speed limits in the area you are working and give way to other industrial trucks in the area.
  • Remember is to go slowly when you’re driving. This is especially important when you’re carrying a load or travelling down narrow aisles. You may need to stop suddenly and maintaining a slow speed will help you do this without tipping the truck over.
  • Remember is to use the horn if you have to, and don’t be afraid to let people know your coming loading docks can be noisy environments and they may not always hear you approaching. You should also use the horn at blind corners and sound the horn at cross aisles, doing this will make sure everyone in the area is aware of your location and help to reduce forklift accidents.

Turning The Forklift

Turning a forklift is not as difficult as it may seem. The first thing you need to do is slow down, and check your surroundings on the approach. Some warehouses have very sharp and tricky turns you may need to stop and reverse to line up your forklift truck and get you and the load around the corner safely.

With safety being a top priority for modern warehouses they often have features and equipment in place to keep everyone safe on turns and corners, these may include plant speed limits, signage and one way systems as well as other safety devices that all work together to increase occupational safety.

If you’re turning sharply, you may need to put the forks down on the ground to help stabilise the truck. Just be careful not to hit anything with the forks while you’re turning! Turning the forklift truck may seem daunting at first but once you have been doing it for a while, and you are used to the sharp corners in your warehouse you will do it without ease.

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Stopping The Forklift

When it’s time to stop the forklift here’s what you need to remember. The first thing is to use the brakes slowly. You don’t want to stop too suddenly and tip the truck over or dislodge the load.

The second thing is to put the forks down on the floor before you come to a complete stop. This will help stabilise the truck and prevent it from tipping over.

And lastly, always remember to turn off the ignition and put on the parking brake before you get out of the forklift.

Reversing The Forklift

Reversing a forklift is not difficult but it does require you to pay close attention to your surroundings and operate with extreme caution. The first thing you need to do is check behind you to make sure there are no pedestrians or obstacles in the way. Then, put the forks down on the ground to help stabilise the truck. Next, put the forklift into reverse and slowly release the brakes and begin moving backwards.

As you’re backing up, be sure to keep an eye on the forks and make sure they don’t hit anything. You may need to stop and adjust your position several times as you’re reversing. Just take your time, use ground guides and mirrors where possible and be careful!

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Parking The Forklift

When you’re finished using the forklift, it’s time to park it. Parking a forklift is quite simple. The first thing you need to do is find a spot that is level and clear of any obstacles or equipment. Once you’ve found a spot, put the forks down on the ground and turn off the ignition.

Now you can release the parking brake and turn off the ignition. Get out of the forklift and check that your parking spot is not going to obstruct any other trucks or pedestrians.

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Loading The Forklift

Loading a forklift is what scares most new forklift operators assuming you did all the safety checks and the load doesn’t have too combined weight for the forklifts load limit, the first thing is to make sure the forks are lined up with the 

Once the forks are in position, you can use the hydraulic controls to lift or lower the load onto the forks. be sure to keep the area around the load clear as it’s moving to avoid any accidents. Once you are sure you have the correct weight distribution you can use the hydraulic controls to adjust the position of the load. Go slowly and ensure the load is balanced before moving the truck.

Now you’re ready to move the load to where it needs to go! Just be sure to take your time and drive carefully.

Unloading The Forklift

Once you successfully transport a load to its new location, it’s time to unload the forklift. The first thing you need to do is lower the load onto the ground or lift to storage shelves using the hydraulic control levers. Once the load is on the ground, you can remove the forks from beneath it, ensuring the area you are operating in is free from other employees and obstacles throughout.

Once the load is placed move the forklift truck out of the way so other employees can continue to work safely in the area.

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5 Tips For Operating A Forklift Safely

Now that you know the basics of operating a forklift, here are a few tips to help you stay safe while doing it:

  1.  Always be aware of your surroundings and any potential hazards make sure there are no people, obstacles or slippery floors in your path of travel.
  2. Take your time and be careful when backing up or reversing the forklift, we know you are probably working in a fast-paced environment but reversing a forklift can’t be rushed take as long as you need to do your job safely.
  3. Always park in a safe spot on level ground and clear of any obstacles and double-check that the parking brake is applied before leaving the forklift truck.
  4. Use caution when loading and unloading the forklift to avoid accidents always ensure the area you are working in is clear of personnel and obstacles before you operate your forklift truck.
  5. Drive slowly and carefully while transporting loads to their new location, don’t be afraid to take your time and maintain a safe distance from obstacles even if people are waiting on you! Your always better safe than sorry!

By following these 5 tips, you can help ensure a safe work environment for yourself and those around you. Remember, safety always comes first!

Tips To Avoid Forklift Overturns

Forklift tip-overs are one of the most common accidents that occur with these trucks. Here are a few tips to help you avoid them:

  •  Always keep the load as close to the ground as possible. The higher you raise it, the more likely it is to cause a forklift tip over.
  • Be sure to keep the load balanced. An unbalanced load is more likely to cause a forklift overturn than a balanced one, if you are unhappy with a load don’t move it and tell your supervisor.
  • Drive slowly and carefully with excessive speed there is more chance of a tip-over if you have to stop suddenly.

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What To Do If A Tip over Occurs

In the event, a tip-over does occur, there are a few things you should do:

If you are driving a forklift truck that starts to tip and you can not stop it stay in the truck and grip the steering wheel tightly, ensure your feet are inside the truck, lean away from the point of impact and brace.

Once the forklift truck has stopped moving, stay where you are until help arrives. Do not try to get up or move around, as this could lead to further injuries.

After you have been assessed by a first aider explain what happened best you can and if you have no serious injuries take time to calm down before returning to work.

Operating A Forklift On Uneven Ground

Occasionally you may have to operate your forklift truck on uneven ground, this may be a ramp or something similar. When this happens there are a few things you need to be aware of:

Be Aware Of The Load

The load you are carrying may shift while you are driving on uneven ground for example on a construction site, so be sure to keep a tight grip on it and be prepared for it to move, if possible only move lighter loads up and down ramps. There are trucks like counterbalance forklifts and rough terrain forklifts specifically designed for moving loads over uneven ground and alternative trucks should be used at every opportunity.

Keep A Slow And Consistent Speed

Drive slowly and carefully, the faster your speed the more likely you are to lose control of the forklift. When driving up a slope keeping a consistent slow speed will help reduce the chances of the forklift rolling back, tipping over or the load becoming uneven.

Take Extra Care With You Surroundings

Like always when operating a forklift truck you should be aware of your surroundings and make sure you’re aware of pedestrian traffic. This is especially important when driving up or down gradients and is a huge part of forklift safety.


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Operating a forklift truck may seem like a daunting task but by the time you have finished your training course and gained your licence, you will be armed with the knowledge to do it safely and efficiently. We hope this article has helped you to understand what it takes to operate a forklift and that safety should always be your number one priority as a forklift driver!