How to Operate a ForkliftSkilled forklift operators are in high demand in virtually every city across the country. If you’re looking for consistent work and competitive wages, you’d do well to learn how to operate a forklift. While forklift operation does require training and experience to get right, many people are surprised to discover how easy a skill it is to learn. 

In this article, we’ll cover the steps involved in learning how to operate a forklift safely and properly. We’ll also explain why you need certified forklift training to become a forklift operator armed with credentials that will impress prospective employers and make you stand out from other applicants. 

Requirements to Operate a Forklift

Before delving into exactly how to operate a forklift, it’s important to clarify who exactly is allowed behind the wheel of such a vehicle. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration, or OSHA, requires all forklift operators to be fully trained and certified before they begin work. If an employee is caught using a forklift without the proper training, the employer may face significant fines and penalties. That’s why it’s best to get your entire team certified before they begin work.

Even if your organization manages to avoid OSHA fines, untrained and uncertified forklift operators are dangerous to have on staff. Their inexperience can lead to more frequent accidents and workplace injuries. Trained workers tend to be more productive, too. There are a million reasons to certify your workers before they begin to operate a forklift. Meeting the requirements to operate a forklift isn’t difficult once you’ve partnered with FLC!

Operating Different Types of Forklifts

While learning about forklift operation is fairly straightforward, it’s important to understand the differences that come with each unique type of lift. Our certification training covers various types of forklifts, including the following:

Stand-Up Forklifts

Sometimes called “stand-ons”, these are used when drivers need to frequently get on and off the lift. Stand-up forklifts are more maneuverable and need less operating space than sit-down forklifts.

Sit Down Forklifts

Sit-downs move at faster speeds, and generally have a faster lift and lower speeds, which increases productivity. They’re also more comfortable and safer to use on slippery surfaces.

Cherry Pickers

Cherry pickers are hydraulic cranes with railed platforms. They’re used to raise and lower workers to retrieve inventory. Also called man lifts, boom lifts, or order pickers, these forklifts can be found on construction sites and in warehouses. They’re frequently used to install and repair overhead lighting and HVAC systems.

Reach Forklifts

These are right-angle stacking trucks used to handle loads in narrow aisles. They’re often used to load and retrieve pallets from storage racks. Many of our clients who want to know how to drive a forklift are asking about reach forklifts.

Steps to Operating a Forklift Safely

Knowing how to operate a forklift consists of three main components. First, operators must ensure their equipment is indeed safe to drive. Next, operators must understand how to drive a forklift safely. Finally, forklift drivers must know how to properly handle loading, moving and unloading cargo. FLC’s forklift operator certification training programs cover each of these in detail.

Starting with Safety

Begin by making sure you’re wearing the right clothing, including a hard hat, gloves, hard-soled shoes, and a visibility vest. Then do an inspection of the lift you plan to operate. These inspections aren’t just recommended – they’re actually required by law. Maintenance is also an important component of safe forklift operation. Operators need to inspect forklifts daily at the beginning of each shift and before every use. This is to ensure there are no hazards or equipment problems that could cause an accident. FLC’s forklift operator training covers the importance of a good forklift maintenance and repair program in detail.

It’s never safe to operate a forklift with defects such as missing or damaged parts, low fluid levels or underinflated tires. Additional items to look for and inspect before each operation include:

  • Leaks, cracks, or other visible defects
  • Condition of the fork
  • Check the brakes
  • Making sure all required safety devices are on board, as well as a copy of the operator’s manual
  • Verifying all controls are working properly, including instruments, warning signals, and lights
  • Traveling and Maneuvering
  • Follow these procedures to drive a forklift safely:
  • Park and refuel only in authorized areas
  • Always brake and stop slowly
  • Only drive at a speed that will allow you to stop easily
  • Always keep a clear view of your surroundings
  • Leave plenty of room for pedestrians
  • Load Handling

The Basics of Forklift Operation

After donning the right safety gear and performing the necessary inspections, it’s time to climb into the forklift and buckle your seat belt. Turn the key to start the lift. Make sure the lever is in the center position so it’s in neutral. Then, using the control levers, lift the forks up two to four inches off the ground so you’re not dragging them as you drive. 

Press on the accelerator to drive, just as you would in a car. Use the shifter to change directions as you get moving. Push forward to drive forward and backward to reverse. When stopped, put the shifter back into neutral. Of course, you’ll want to consult the forklift’s manual for guidance on your specific make and model of forklift. There isn’t a one size fits all approach to learning how to operate a forklift

Mastering Lift Techniques

Forklifts are designed for picking up, stacking, moving and unstacking loads and pallets, which makes it essential that operators learn how to handle loads correctly and prevent forklift tip-overs. Safe forklift operation often boils down to practicing these techniques. To load the forklift, stop your vehicle about one foot from the load. Then press the brake pedal and come to a complete stop. Shift into neutral and turn on the parking brake. Adjust the width of the tines as needed, then raise or lower them to match the height of the pallet openings. 

Make sure your load is stable before attempting to lift it onto your vehicle. The heaviest items should be on the bottom and should be located closer to the front of the forklift cab than other lighter objects. Stack items so they’re centered in the pallet. Drive forward until the fork is completely inserted into the pallet. Then lift at least two to four inches off the ground. Tilt the mast back for stability – this will help prevent tip-overs. 

When you’re ready to unload, place the mast in the vertical position. Raise the load about six inches above the area where you plan to drop it. Drive the load forward until your load is above the place you want to set it down. Then lower the forks until the pallet is set down. Back straight out to remove the load from the tines. 

Mastering these techniques may take some practice, but you’ll learn how to operate a forklift in no time. Keep these tips in mind as you learn:

  • Note the size and shape of the load and the size of the forks
  • Always load slowly and carefully
  • Center the load between the forks and never overload the lift
  • Always make sure the load is stable and balanced
  • Place the forks as far under the centered load as possible
  • Tilt the mast back slightly to stabilize the load
  • Forklift Maintenance

FLC is Your Best Choice for OSHA-Compliant Forklift Operator Training

When it comes to OSHA compliance, FLC is the best way to meet the requirements to operate a forklift. Our online training courses and operator certification resources are designed by industry experts. Meet and exceed your company’s certification requirements in one easy step. 

Here’s an overview of  FLC’s three online forklift operator training programs:

Forklift Training & Certification Kit

Learning how to operate a forklift has never been more convenient. Our versatile and affordable OSHA-approved training is the most comprehensive class you’ll find anywhere. It’s jam-packed with useful safety tips and OSHA compliant training content for a well-rounded skill set. In as little as an hour, your workers will learn everything they need to know about safely operating forklifts. The Kit includes everything you’ll need to train and certify all your operators for just $299. It’s the only training class you’ll ever need!

Train the Trainer Program

This forklift operator license program will give your company a certified training expert that’s always available! Through our Train the Trainer class, one of your employees becomes an in-house OSHA expert! It’s ideal for companies that have a forklift training program in place but need a trainer to evaluate and certify their unlicensed forklift drivers. The cost of training a Forklift Safety Expert is only $149.

Bundle Package

If you can’t decide between our two forklift operator license programs, no worries. The Bundle Package combines both our Train a Trainer and Training Kit classes into a value-added package priced at just $399, which makes them even more affordable! There’s no other OSHA training resource around that offers such a terrific value! provides everything you need to know to become a certified forklift driver.

The Importance of Forklift Operator Training

Forklift technology is evolving quickly. Operators need more specialized training than ever to use these powerful machines to their fullest capacity. Learning how to operate a forklift safety is the key to avoiding hazards and preventing accidents. Without proper training, operators may fail to take into account the unique characteristics of the equipment. 

Even if employees are fast learners who can pick up forklift operation skills with ease, formal training is legally required. Should an untrained, uncertified worker use a forklift and get into an accident, the consequences may be long-reaching. OSHA investigators may subject your organization to serve fines and penalties. Don’t put OSHA compliance in jeopardy  – sign up with FLC today!  If you have any questions about training, give us a call at (888) 278-8896.

Forklifts don’t go very fast. In fact, the fastest forklifts are allowed to go is only eight miles per hour. Most travel about half that fast on the job. However, forklifts are heavy machines. Plus, they’re designed to carry a lot of weight from one place to another. In serious accidents, they can cause severe injuries and even fatalities to forklift workers. That’s why it is so important to have forklift training and certification before operating a forklift. Part of that training involves knowing what all the forklift controls are for and how to use them.

Forklift controls can vary depending on the type of truck. That’s why OSHA requires workers to get trained on the specific model they will operate. It’s also a good idea to study the owner’s manual before operating a forklift. This will help to understand where the controls are located and how each one on the forklift control panel works.

Basic Forklift Controls

Most forklifts have the following types of controls:

– Hydraulic lift knobs. These knobs control how the forks are used when lifting, lowering and carrying loads. One knob lifts the forks up or down. Another one tilts the forks up or down at a slight angle. This is used to load the pallets more securely. The third knob is used to move the load from side to side. Some forklifts come with a knob that allows the operator to vary the width of the forks.

Some forklift hydraulics are controlled with levers that manipulate the hydraulic valves. Others use electronic actuators that are controlled with smaller levers. These smaller levers give forklift designers more leeway in creating ergonomic designs. Regardless of how the hydraulics are controlled, always inspect the controls before starting a job.

– Mast tilt. In addition to raising and lowering the forks, hydraulics also allow the operator to tilt the mast. This can prevent loads from slipping off the forks by compensating for their tendency to angle the forks downward. Tilt can also help when operating a forklift on ground that isn’t level.

– Directional controls. Unlike cars, forklifts only have three gears: forward, reverse and neutral. These controls can be mounted on the steering column or operated by foot. Foot control is done by shifting the accelerator pedal from side to side.

– Accelerator pedal. This performs the same function as the gas pedal on a car. Press down and the speed and acceleration increase. Take the pressure off and they decrease.

– Brake pedal. This, too, works just like a car. Press down to slow or stop the forklift. Lifting your foot off the pedal allows the truck to begin moving again.

– Clutch pedal. Some internal combustion (fossil fuel) forklifts come with a clutch pedal, which is part of the forklift speed control system. This pedal allows the operator to accelerate more by shifting into a higher gear. These forklifts are typically used in outdoor work sites with rough or difficult terrain.

– Inching pedal. You won’t find this pedal in a car. In a forklift, it is used to make very slow, small movements to position the truck for lifting. It is also used to maneuver safely in narrow aisles and tight spaces. The pedal is usually operated by the left foot.

– Parking brake. As the name implies, the parking brake holds the forklift in place when it is not being driven. When parking the truck on an incline, always engage the parking brake and block the wheel.

Differences with Hydrostatic Forklifts

Hydrostatic forklifts offer a good example of why workers need to get trained on the type of truck they will use. This forklift does not use a mechanical powertrain to power the wheels. Instead, the engine circulates hydraulic fluid to provide the power. This allows for smoother acceleration and more precise movement. It also allows the engine to operate at lower RPMs, thereby saving on fuel costs and reducing wear and tear.

Accelerating a hydrostatic forklift is achieved by pushing down on the pedal. The more you press down, the faster the forklift goes. Stopping the truck only requires releasing the accelerator pedal. Unlike other forklifts, the hydrostatic model has no brake pedal.

Some hydrostatic forklifts also have a different forklift speed control system. This consists of two accelerator pedals that act like directional controls. One pedal moves the truck forward. The other one moves it in reverse. The operator uses only one foot, shifting from one pedal to the other as needed.

Know Your Forklift Instruments

In addition to controls, forklifts also have many instruments on the dashboard. These use warning alights and gauges to provide important information about the status of forklift components.

– Instrument panel. The panel contains graphic displays that signal safe or unsafe operating conditions.

– Oil pressure gauge. Indicates the oil pressure inside the engine. Some forklifts have an oil pressure warning light to indicate that immediate action is required.

– Temperature gauge/light. This works like the temperature gauge on a car dashboard. Some forklifts use a “C” for cold and “H” for hot. Others use the color green to indicate safe operating temperature and red for overheating.

– Transmission temperature. This indicates when the temperature inside the transmission is too high.

-Fuel gauge. Shows the amount of fuel left in gasoline, diesel, or propane forklift tanks

– Hour meter. This digital meter records the number of hours the truck has been used. Many companies schedule maintenance by hours of use, so always record the hours in your daily inspection log.

– Battery discharge indicator. Indicates when the battery on electric forklifts is low. This can be displayed in the form of a warning light, percentage indicator, or needle in the warning zone.

Read the operator’s manual to learn about these instruments. Never operate your forklift if a warning light or gauge indicates an unsafe condition.

Standup Forklift Controls

Operating a standup forklift is very different than standard sit-down models. The controls are different, as is the way workers pick and move loads. A control handle and gas pedal is used to move the truck forward and backward. Moving the handle forward propels the forklift forward. Pulling back on the handle moves it in reverse. Stopping the forklift requires taking your foot off the pedal and moving the handle back to the neutral position. A controlling handle is used to turn the truck.

Buttons on the handle control the fork. The top button extends the forks into the load to be lifted. The button on the left raises the load. The button on the right lowers the load. The bottom button withdraws the forks. If you’re used to working on sit-down forklifts, take time to get familiar with standup forklift controls before operating the truck.

Don’t Put Off Forklift Training

Forklift manufacturers work hard to build trucks that are safe to operate. Yet, nothing reduces accidents and injuries on the job like training and certification. That’s why OSHA requires anyone who operates a truck to have forklift certification.  It makes the workplace safer. It can also prevent you from paying costly penalties due to accidents caused by uncertified workers.

At, we make it quick and easy to get every forklift operator on your team trained, certified and ready to go. Call us today at (888) 278-8896 for forklift training that is fast, affordable and guaranteed!