Forklift controls

Forklift controls

Forklift Controls: A Guide to Operating Forklifts Safely

Forklifts play a pivotal role in various industries, from warehouses and construction sites to manufacturing plants and distribution centers. These powerful machines are designed to lift and transport heavy loads with ease, but they can also pose significant risks if not operated safely. Ensuring the safe and efficient operation of forklifts is of utmost importance, and this begins with a thorough understanding of forklift controls.

Forklift Controls

Steering Wheel

The steering wheel is responsible for controlling the direction of the forklift. By turning the wheel left or right, the operator can maneuver the forklift in tight spaces and navigate around obstacles. It is important to note that the steering on a forklift is rear-wheel steering, meaning that the rear wheels determine the direction of the vehicle.


Like the gas pedal in a car, the accelerator controls the speed of the forklift. Pressing down on the accelerator pedal increases the speed, while releasing it slows down or stops the forklift. Operators should exercise caution and gradually increase or decrease speed to maintain stability and prevent accidents.


Forklifts are equipped with both service brakes and parking brakes. The service brakes, operated by a pedal, are used to slow down, or stop the forklift during operation. On the other hand, the parking brake keeps the forklift stationary when it is not in use. Both brakes are crucial for maintaining control and preventing accidents.

Mast Controls

The mast controls enable the operator to raise, lower, and tilt the forks. These controls consist of levers or buttons located on the control panel or integrated into the armrest. With precise manipulation of the mast controls, the operator can safely handle and transport loads of various sizes and shapes.

Hydraulic Levers

Hydraulic levers are used to control other hydraulic functions of the forklift, such as extending or retracting the mast, adjusting fork position, and operating attachments. Depending on the forklift model, these levers can be located on the control panel or on the sides of the operator’s seat.

Horn and Lights

The horn is a safety feature that allows the operator to alert pedestrians and other workers in the vicinity. It should be used to signal warnings and avoid collisions. Additionally, forklifts are equipped with lights, including headlights, taillights, and indicator lights, to ensure visibility and safety in low-light conditions. In addition, the forklift can be equipped with optional laser lights, improving safety.

Optional and Specialized Controls

In addition to the basic controls mentioned above, forklifts may have optional or specialized controls depending on their specific application. These controls can include side shifters, fork positioners, load backrests, and attachment controls. Operators must receive proper training on the usage of these controls to maximize productivity and operational safety.

Pre-Operational Checks

Before starting a forklift, it is crucial to perform pre-operational checks to ensure its safety and proper functionality. These checks are essential as they help prevent potential accidents or malfunctions during operation.

An inspecting the functionality of all controls on the forklift

These controls include the steering wheel, accelerator, brakes, and horn. Each control plays a vital role in ensuring safe and efficient operation.

A steering wheel

Firstly, it is important to check the steering wheel. Make sure it moves smoothly and without any resistance. If there is any stiffness or difficulty in turning the wheel, it must be addressed before operating the forklift. A malfunctioning steering wheel can lead to poor maneuverability and increase the risk of accidents.

Accelerator pedal

Ensure that it responds correctly and allows for gradual acceleration. Any sudden jerking or unresponsiveness may indicate a problem that needs to be addressed by a qualified technician. Operating a forklift with a faulty accelerator can result in uncontrolled movements and potential collisions.

The brakes

Test the braking system to ensure it engages smoothly and brings the forklift to a complete stop. If there is any delay or difficulty in stopping, it is vital to address the issue immediately. Faulty brakes can lead to accidents, especially in emergency situations where quick stopping is necessary.

The horn

The horn is an essential communication tool in a busy warehouse or construction site. It alerts pedestrians and other operators of your presence and warns them of potential danger. Ensure that the horn is loud and works properly. If the horn is not functioning, it should be repaired or replaced before operating the forklift.

Forklift controls – Operating Procedures

Starting and Stopping

Properly starting and stopping a forklift is crucial to ensuring the safety of both the operator and those in the surrounding area.

Starting a Forklift

Before starting a forklift, operators must conduct a pre-operation inspection to ensure that the vehicle is in proper working condition. This includes checking the tires, brakes, steering, lights, horn, and any other relevant components. If any issues are detected, they should be reported immediately and the forklift should not be operated until the necessary repairs or adjustments have been made.

To start the forklift, the operator should follow these steps:
  • Ensure that the gear is in neutral, and the parking brake is engaged.
  • Turn the key to the ON position and wait for the indicator lights to illuminate.
  • Check that all gauges and controls are functioning properly.
  • Depress the brake pedal and shift the gear into the desired driving mode (forward or reverse).
  • Gradually release the brake pedal and begin driving slowly.

Stopping a Forklift

Stopping a forklift safely is just as important as starting it. Abrupt stops can cause loads to become unstable or even tip over, posing a serious risk to both the operator and others nearby. Therefore, it is crucial to follow the proper procedure for stopping a forklift.

To stop a forklift, the operator should follow these steps:
  • Gradually reduce speed by releasing the accelerator pedal.
  • Depress the brake pedal gently and smoothly.
  • Allow the forklift to come to a complete stop before shifting gears or exiting the vehicle.
  • Engage the parking brake before leaving the forklift unattended.

Importance of Following Proper Shutdown Procedures

In addition to the correct procedures for starting and stopping a forklift, it is equally important to follow proper shutdown procedures. This helps prevent accidents and ensures that the forklift is in a safe condition for the next operator.

When shutting down a forklift, operators should do the following:

  • Bring the forklift to a complete stop and engage the parking brake.
  • Lower the forks or attachments to the ground.
  • Turn off the engine and remove the key.
  • Conduct a final check to ensure that all controls are in the neutral position.
  • Secure the forklift, park it in the designated area, and report any issues or damages.

Forklift Controls – Steering and Maneuvering

Types of Forklift Steering Systems

a) Power Steering System:

  • Power steering is a common feature in modern forklifts.
  • It utilizes hydraulic pressure to assist the driver in turning the wheels.
  • This system reduces the effort needed to steer and provides greater control over the forklift’s movements.
  • It is especially beneficial when navigating tight spaces and making sharp turns.

b) Mechanical Steering System

  • Mechanical steering systems rely on physical force applied by the operator to turn the wheels.
  • This type is commonly found in older or smaller forklift models.
  • Operators using mechanical steering systems must exert more physical effort when steering.
  • It is important to be cautious while maneuvering, as sudden jerks can lead to loss of balance and accidents.

Steering Techniques

Smooth Movements
  • Use smooth and deliberate movements when steering a forklift.
  • Avoid jerking the steering wheel abruptly, as it can cause the forklift to become unstable.
  • Gradual and controlled movements allow for better maneuverability and help maintain stability of the load being carried.
Use of Mirrors
  • Regularly check the rear-view and side mirrors to ensure clear visibility while steering.
  • Proper use of mirrors can help identify obstacles, pedestrians, or other forklifts in the vicinity.
  • Be attentive to blind spots and always give right of way to pedestrians or other vehicles in shared areas.

Maintaining Appropriate Speeds

a) Importance of Speed Control

  • Maintaining appropriate speeds is vital for safe maneuvering.
  • Excessive speed can lead to loss of control, tipping over, or collisions.
  • Always adhere to speed limits set by the manufacturer and consider the specific site conditions when determining appropriate speeds.

b) Slow Down for Turns

  • Reduce speed when making turns, especially sharp turns.
  • Turning at excessive speeds can cause the load to shift or the forklift to become unstable.
  • Lowering the speed will enhance control and stability during the turn.

Acceleration and Braking

Functions of the Accelerator and Brake Controls

The accelerator and brake controls are essential components of a vehicle’s operation and safety system. The accelerator pedal, also known as the gas pedal, is responsible for controlling the speed and acceleration of the vehicle. By depressing the accelerator, the engine receives more fuel, causing the vehicle to accelerate or increase speed. Conversely, releasing pressure on the accelerator pedal decreases the amount of fuel supplied to the engine, resulting in deceleration or slowing down.

On the other hand, the brake pedal is used to control the vehicle’s speed by engaging the braking system. When the driver applies pressure to the brake pedal, hydraulic force is transmitted to the brakes, causing the vehicle to slow down or come to a complete stop. The brake pedals allow for varying amounts of force to be applied depending on the desired level of braking.

Effective Use of the Accelerator and Brake Pedals

To ensure smooth acceleration and controlled braking, it is crucial to use the accelerator and brake pedals effectively. When accelerating, it is important to gradually apply pressure to the accelerator pedal. Sudden or excessive acceleration can lead to the loss of control, especially on slippery or uneven road surfaces. Gradual acceleration allows the vehicle’s weight to shift smoothly, ensuring stability and traction.


During braking, it is essential to avoid abrupt or harsh braking. Instead, it is recommended to steadily apply pressure to the brake pedal. Abrupt braking can cause the vehicle to skid, potentially leading to a collision with other vehicles or objects. It is important to maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front to allow sufficient time for gradual braking. Additionally, using both the accelerator and brake pedals simultaneously should be avoided, as this can result in unstable vehicle behavior.

Dangers of Abrupt Acceleration or Harsh Braking

Abrupt acceleration can cause loss of traction, resulting in wheel spin and loss of control. This is particularly risky in adverse weather conditions such as rain, snow, or ice. Harsh braking can lead to the activation of the anti-lock braking system (ABS) and cause the vehicle to skid, prolonging the stopping distance and increasing the risk of a collision.

To ensure safe and efficient driving, it is crucial to master the effective use of the accelerator and brake pedals. Smooth acceleration and controlled braking not only enhance safety but also improve the overall driving experience by providing a comfortable and steady ride.

Mast Controls and Hydraulic Levers

Functions and Operation of Mast Controls

Lifting Loads

Mast controls enable operators to lift loads effortlessly. The control lever, typically located on the operator’s right, activates the hydraulic system responsible for extending and retracting the mast’s inner and outer sections. Lifting loads safely requires the operator to position the forks at an appropriate height, align them with the load, and gradually raise the load without sudden jerks. It is essential to be familiar with the specific controls on the forklift being used, as different models may have slightly varying mast control configurations.

Lowering Loads

The mast control for lowering loads is equally important to ensure safe and controlled descent. When lowering a load, operators must do so gently, avoiding rapid or uncontrolled movements that could cause damage or injury. The control lever allows for precise lowering by releasing oil from the cylinder, allowing the mast to descend gradually. It is crucial to avoid sudden releases or dropping the load abruptly, as it can result in equipment damage or accidents.

Operation of Hydraulic Levers

Tilting the Mast

Hydraulic levers are employed to tilt the mast forward and backward. They provide operators with the ability to adjust the angle of the forks to accommodate various load shapes or to prevent the load from sliding off during transport. Tilting the mast using the hydraulic levers is a delicate task that demands caution and control. Gradual and smooth movements are required to ensure the load remains stable throughout the process, reducing the risk of accidents or damage to the goods being transported.

Adjusting the Forks

Hydraulic levers also allow operators to adjust the forks’ width, enabling them to match the load’s size and distribute weight evenly. It is important to maintain proper fork spacing based on the load’s dimensions to avoid instability or potential damage. Excessive spacing or insufficient support can compromise load balance and increase the risk of accidents or product damage. Therefore, operators must be familiar with the hydraulic lever controls and understand how to adjust the forks safely and efficiently.

Load Capacity Limits and Proper Load Balance

Adhering to load capacity limits and maintaining proper load balance is critical for safe forklift operation. Each forklift model has specific load capacity limits outlined by the manufacturer. Operators must be aware of these limits and never exceed them, as overloaded forklifts pose significant safety risks. Furthermore, maintaining proper load balance ensures stability during operation, preventing the forklift from tipping. Incorrect load distribution can cause the forklift to become imbalanced, resulting in accidents, property damage, or even injuries to personnel.

Safety Practices

Forklift operators should follow important safety practices related to forklift controls. These practices not only protect the well-being of the operator, but also prevent potential accidents and injuries.

Never Carrying Passengers and Always Wearing Seat Belts

One of the fundamental safety practices when operating a forklift is to never carry passengers. Forklifts are designed to transport goods and materials, not people. Allowing unauthorized individuals to ride along poses serious safety risks and can lead to accidents. It is imperative that operators understand this rule and strictly abide by it.

Additionally, it is essential for forklift operators to always wear seat belts while operating the vehicle. Seat belts significantly reduce the risk of being thrown from the forklift in the event of sudden stops or collisions. They provide the necessary protection and help prevent serious injuries. By consistently wearing seat belts, operators demonstrate their commitment to personal safety and set a good example for others.

Using Horns and Lights to Alert Others

Forklifts, due to their size and limited visibility, can pose hazards to pedestrians and other equipment operators in the vicinity. By activating the horn when entering blind spots or approaching intersections, operators can effectively warn others and prevent potential accidents.

Moreover, utilizing the forklift’s lights, such as headlights and warning lights, further enhances visibility, and increases safety. Proper lighting ensures that the forklift is easily identifiable, especially in dimly lit areas or during night shifts. It allows pedestrians and other operators to exercise caution and make informed decisions when near a forklift.

Clear Communication between Operators and Pedestrians

Clear communication between forklift operators and pedestrians is paramount to maintaining a safe work environment. Both parties must be aware of each other’s presence and intentions to avoid accidents. Operators must use designated signals or hand gestures to indicate their movements and ensure pedestrians keep a safe distance.

Likewise, pedestrians should be vigilant and responsive to the signals provided by operators. They should refrain from distracting the forklift operator or obstructing their path. Establishing effective communication channels, such as using radios or designated walkie-talkies, can further facilitate this process and minimize misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

Forkfleet System – Enhancing Safety and Task Management Efficiency through Remote Task Allocation

The Forkfleet system has revolutionized the way tasks are assigned and managed, enhancing both safety and workflow efficiency within organizations. By enabling real-time task allocation for forklifts through tablets installed within the vehicles, Forkfleet has significantly improved safety protocols and streamlined task execution.

Workflow Organization

Efficient Task Allocation

Forkfleet enables supervisors to allocate tasks to forklift operators directly through tablets installed within the vehicles. This eliminates the need for manual task assignment, reducing the chances of miscommunication and ensuring that the right tasks are allocated to the free operators.

Real-Time Updates

Through the Forkfleet system, operators receive real-time updates regarding task priorities, changes, or new assignments. This ensures that they are always aware of the most current instructions, reducing delays and optimizing workflow efficiency.

Task Tracking

Forkfleet allows supervisors to track the progress of each assigned task, ensuring accountability and providing insights for process improvements. This transparency and visibility into task completion facilitate proactive management and optimal resource utilization.


The Forkfleet system offers numerous benefits in terms of safety enhancement and workflow organization. By utilizing tablets within forklifts for real-time task allocation, organizations can minimize safety risks, improve task efficiency, and optimize overall operational effectiveness.

We invite you to a free presentation of the Forkfleet system. Schedule a demo, learn about our system and ask us any question about forklift management.

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