Forklift Speed and Navigation

Posted by: admin on December 20, 2018

Forklift Speed and Navigation

Forklifts are generally not associated with high speeds. Yet, because of their weight and the heavy loads they carry, they don’t have to go very fast to become unsafe. Improper steering can also cause safety problems. That’s why OSHA requires operators to be trained and certified in order to drive a forklift.

OSHA Guidelines for Forklift Speed Limits

OSHA has issued two regulations that address the issue of safe forklift speeds and navigation:

  • 29 CFR 1910.178(n)(8). This regulation states that forklifts should be driven at a speed that will allow them to be brought to a stop in a safe manner. This applies to all types of forklifts and travel conditions.
  • 29 CFR 1910.178(n)(15). Turning too fast is a common cause of forklift accidents. This regulation says operators should reduce speed to a safe level by turning the steering wheel at a moderate, controlled rate.

Despite these directives, OSHA does not define speed limits by miles per hour. Instead, they leave it to employers to set speed limits at their warehouses or job sites. These factors should be considered when establishing maximum speed limits:

  • Type of forklift
  • Work environment
  • Surface conditions
  • Manufacturer’s speed limitations
  • Type and weight of the load being carried
  • Safe stopping distances
  • Pedestrian traffic and other safety concerns

Determining Safe Stopping Distances

Forklifts brakes don’t always work as effectively as those on other vehicles. And, trucks can easily become unbalanced if the driver suddenly applies the brakes too hard. This can cause a tipover or loss of load, putting the driver and nearby pedestrians at risk. Determining the safe stopping distance can help set safe speed limits so drivers don’t have to brake so hard.

Safe stopping distances are affected by several factors. These include the weight of the truck, weight of the load and floor grading. The following formula is often used for calculation purposes.

S = 0.394^2 / D-G where:

  • D = drawbar drag, as a percentage
  • G = percentage grade (e.g., 5 for 5%)
  • S = stopping distance in meters
  • V = velocity in km/h

This helps set maximum speeds on clean, well-maintained floors. It also shows how work site factors, such as floor surface, drawbar drag and grade percentage, can impact safe speeds. For more about this stopping distance formula, see page 3 of ANSI B56.1.

Another tool for calculating safe stopping distance comes from A Guide to Forklift Safety (page 10). This handy reference guide provides a useful chart for determining safe braking distances when traveling on an even surface.


Speed (km/h) 6 12 14 16 18 20 22
Speed in meters per second 1.7 3.3 3.9 4.4 5 5.6 6.1
Distance travelled while driver reacts to emergency (m) 2.5 5 5.8 6.7 7.5 8.3 9.2
Minimum Theoretical Emergency Stopping Distance (m) 2.8 6 7 8.5 9.5 11 12.5
Minimum Actual Emergency Stopping Distance – test results (m) 2.9-3.2 7-8 8-10 9.5-12 11-14 13-16.5 14.5-19


Too often, operators are expected to apply the right amount braking to avoid accidents. This can be difficult to do when a sudden stop is needed. Setting speed limits based on minimum safe stopping distances can take this burden off operators and help prevent accidents and injuries.


Controlling Forklift Speed

It’s one thing to set truck speed limits. To have a safe work site, you also need to make operators aware of the limits and enforce them.


  • Post forklift speed limit signs where operators can easily see them. These serve as constant reminders to maintain safe speeds.


  • Install forklift speed bumps. These help control speed by forcing trucks to come to a complete stop to pass over them. Place them in crosswalks, pathways, blind spots and areas with pedestrian traffic.


  • Install speed limiting devices on your forklifts. These prevent operators from speeding by controlling the truck’s throttle system. They do not reduce the full lifting power of the truck.


  • Equip your forklifts with speed alarms. These alert operators when they go over the speed limit. Forklift speed alarms can be set up to create beeps when the forklift approaches the speed limit. When the operator exceeds the speed limit, the alarm will flash warning lights or create a loud siren noise.


Forklift Best Practices

Enforcing forklift speed limits is a good start. The following best practices will also help improve forklift safety:

  • Always operate forklifts at a speed that allows stopping in a safe and controlled manner
  • Drive slowly and with caution on wet, slippery floors
  • Use extra caution on ramps and graded surfaces
  • Slow down and sound your horn when navigating intersections and blind spots
  • Reduce speed around corners by turning the steering wheel in a smooth, sweeping motion
  • Keep a reasonable distance between forklifts

Most important, make sure all forklift operators have proper training and certifications before letting them get behind the wheel. With Certify Me, you can get fast, affordable training anywhere you have Internet access!


Follow step-by-step instructions to get OSHA compliant!

This low-cost program can be completed anytime, anywhere!

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