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Brush up on Your Safety Knowledge with this Forklift Safety Q&A

Behind every successful warehouse or facility is likely a forklift fleet that keeps materials moving on a daily basis. These workhorses offer countless operational benefits, but introduce some workplace hazards, too.

In order to ensure the health and safety of employees and, ultimately, keep business running smoothly, it’s important for forklift operators to comply with safety guidelines put in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with regard to forklift operation, maintenance, and training. Beyond adhering to these procedures, forklift operators must also remain engaged, proactive, and not become complacent when working around heavy machinery.

Here are a few common safety questions, reminders, and best practices:

What are the leading causes of forklift incidents?

OSHA conducted a study to analyze forklift-related accidents, injuries, and fatalities and found that the top six causes were operator inattention, forklift overturn, unstable loads, operators struck by load, elevated employees, and lack of training.

What routine safety practices are often overlooked?

  • Examine the equipment before each shift. Operators should report any damages or problems to management and the forklift shouldn’t be operated if it needs to be repaired.
  • Wear personal protective equipment like hard hats, protective footwear, and high-visibility clothing when working around forklifts and other heavy machinery.
  • Buckle up. Overturned forklifts are a leading cause of forklift-related accidents and fatalities. By buckling up while in a sit-down forklift, operators can save themselves from getting crushed by the machine’s overhead guard or roll cage, in the event of an accident.
  • Know and never exceed the forklift’s lifting capacity. Load capacities can be found in the equipment’s operating manual and are also listed on the machine itself. By keeping loads within the weight capacity, operators can decrease the risk of tipping the machine.
  • Operate at a safe speed and sound the horn when visibility is blocked. Operators should sound their horn if vision is obstructed to alert pedestrians or other operators. Operators should also maintain slow, safe travel speeds and take corners and turns slowly to minimize the risk of tipping.
  • Use caution on grades and ramps to prevent tip-overs. When descending a ramp with a loaded forklift, always travel in reverse with the forklift and payload pointed up the grade. And when traveling up a ramp with an unloaded forklift, always keep the forks pointed downgrade.
  • When left unattended, a forklift’s load should be fully lowered, its controls neutralized, power shut off and brakes set. If the equipment is parked on an incline, operators can further secure it with wheel blocks.

Propane is a widely-used forklift fuel and currently holds about 90 percent market share for Class 4 and 5 forklifts, according to data from the Propane Education & Research Council. Because this fuel is a leader in the material handling market, propane-specific safety reminders are important for a wide variety of facilities across the country.

What safety measures should employees remember every time they operate propane equipment?

  • Inspect cylinders before operation. Check cylinders for rusting, dents, gouges, and leaks. Cylinders that show signs of wear or leaks shouldn’t be used and may need to be replaced, even if within the cylinder’s requalification date.
  • Secure the pressure relief valve on the cylinder. Operators should check that the pressure relieve valve fitting is roughly 180 degrees from the forklift’s locating pin.
  • Close the service valves on cylinders when not in use. This helps prevent potential injury around internal combustion engines and unintended fuel loss.
  • Store propane cylinders in a secure rack or cage. These are generally located away from exits, stairways, entryways, and high-traffic areas. The cylinders can be stored horizontally with the pressure relief valves in the uppermost position, and operators should use proper lifting techniques when removing cylinders from storage and placing onto a forklift.

Can propane suppliers provide additional safety support or training?

Local propane suppliers can serve as a great safety resource for businesses operating propane equipment, offering support in a variety of ways:

  • Cylinders. They can inspect cylinders each time they’re exchanged and remove damaged cylinders from service; repair and replace worn valves and O-rings on the cylinders as needed, and help identify the most convenient location for cylinder cages so they don’t interfere with workflow.
  • Refueling. Propane suppliers’ priority is to make sure customers and their crews know how to properly and safely install cylinders on their forklifts. For facilities that refill their own cylinders on-site, propane suppliers can also train employees how to safely refill cylinders.
  • Training. Some propane suppliers offer additional safety training opportunities for forklift customers, too.

Visit to learn more about forklift safety.

Jeremy Wishart is director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at

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