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Safe Travel Practices and How to Operate a Forklift at a High Speed

Posted by: admin on August 5, 2016

safe travel practices for forklifts

Forklifts cause hundreds of accidents every year that result in injury or death. While it may not look much more complicated than driving a vehicle, operating a forklift comes with its own unique practices and hazards. Two of the most common dangers associated with forklifts that lead to accidents are unsafe traveling maneuvers and driving too fast. When there are other workers around who may be distracted and thousands of pounds of warehouse materials, a forklift operator can’t afford to neglect these top safety concerns and operator fundamentals.

The Dangers of Unsafe Traveling and Speeds

According to a study led by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), tip-overs are the leading cause of accidents involving forklifts. And the most common causes of tip overs involve speeding, mechanical problems, traveling with an elevated load, incorrect traveling distance between forklifts, making too sharp of a turn, operating on a slippery surface, and the forklift being struck by another vehicle. In many accidents involving forklifts, both the operator and on-foot workers are harmed. There are about 85 forklift fatalities and 34,900 serious injuries that occur every year, and the root cause for many of them is a lack of forklift safety training. The most effective way to prevent all kinds of forklift accidents is to receive safety training and to complete a forklift certification that covers the most important operating protocols.

Forklift Safety Traveling Best Practices

All forklift operators need to be certified to drive forklifts and need to practice the following protocols when traveling with the forklift in a warehouse or construction site. When workers understand how to maneuver the forklift properly, as well as the correct traveling distance between forklifts, they can help prevent the most common and deadly accidents associated with forklifts: tip overs, being struck by a falling load, being struck or crushed by a forklift, and collisions with objects or other forklifts. If you would like to learn how to prevent these accidents, follow these tips from OSHA.

  • Before operating, look in all directions for any obstacles or potential hazards
  • Keep your view clear and travel backward with a load if you need to
  • Maintain a safe distance between other forklifts and drive at the appropriate speed limit
  • Yield right of way to emergency vehicles
  • Do not pass other forklifts moving in the same direction
  • Be careful when crossing intersections or blind spots
  • Drive at a speed that allows you to stop easily and safely
  • Avoid horseplay while operating the forklift.
  • Slow down when traveling on wet or slippery floors
  • Separate the area between forklift traffic and pedestrian traffic
  • Keep appendages and articles of clothing inside the forklift
  • Watch out for all obstructions
  • Do not travel with the load elevated
  • Never drive up to someone who is in front of a fixed object that they can be pinned against

Operating a Forklift at a High Speed

Not only do workers need to understand the right techniques for driving forklifts correctly and safely but they also need to understand the importance of traveling at the right speed. Driving too fast can cause the forklift operator to lose control, especially if the traveling distance between forklifts is insufficient, which can lead to tip-overs, striking objects or other forklifts, and pinning or crushing pedestrian workers. Blind spots and intersections are located throughout a typical warehouse and operating at a careful, appropriate speed is imperative to navigating these areas safely. Follow these tips from OSHA for traveling at speeds if you want to protect your life and the lives of your fellow employees:

  • Operate the forklift at a speed that allows you to stop in a safe manner
  • Reduce speed when traveling on wet and slippery floors.
  • Keep a clear view of the path of travel
  • Reduce speed and sound horn at all intersections
  • Reduce speed when making turns and turn the steering wheel in a smooth, sweeping motion
  • Lift and lower grades slowly
  • Avoid driving over loose objects on the floor.

What Is the Ideal Traveling Distance Between Forklifts?

The safe traveling distance between forklifts is approximately three truck lengths, or about a time-lapse of three seconds when passing the same point. More specifically, it’s about 20 feet between forklifts.

The three-second rule is the same for automobiles on the road and is just as important for forklifts. In a busy workplace like a warehouse, sight limitations and loud noises may prevent an operator from noticing everything around them, which increases the risk of accidents. Driving at a safe speed, and using the three-second rule as the travel distance between forklifts, will help forklift drivers prevent collisions with other operators and be able to break in time for a hazard or accident, without causing the forklift to become unstable.

Forklifts have a very high center of gravity and can become unstable when traveling at excessive speeds, or when traveling too close to other forklifts and are unable to break properly for an emergency stop. An unstable forklift is a serious hazard risk for accidents and can damage the equipment and any nearby objects if the forklift collides with a structure in the facility. While the three-second travel distance between forklifts may seem to decrease productivity and slow down operations, it can actually save employers thousands of dollars in avoided damages and repairs, as well as worker compensation costs. When all forklifts can remain in the rotation and are working safely, the workplace is the most efficient.

Hazards When Not Traveling at Safe Speeds or Distances

Traveling too fast on a forklift or too close to another driver can have serious consequences. The forklift is at a much higher risk of toppling over or colliding with other operators or on-foot workers. According to OSHA, forklift overturns are the most common type of fatal accident involving forklifts. A forklift hitting something is second, and a worker being pinned between objects, including a forklift, is third. As you can guess, a forklift traveling too fast can cause any of these three fatal accidents. A forklift traveling less than 20 feet, or 3-seconds away from other forklifts traveling in the same direction can impair the operator’s ability to stop in time and prevent a serious accident. This is the case when driving down a straight pathway, but especially so when turning around corners and crossing intersections and blind spots.

To avoid accidents when traveling with a forklift, always look in all directions before moving, and do not pass other forklifts traveling in the same direction at intersections, blind spots, or other hazardous locations.

What Is a Safe Distance Between Forklifts and Pedestrians?

Ideally, you should keep a forklift as far away from pedestrians as possible. In areas where pedestrians are present, a minimum distance of 4 ft. is necessary. This ensures a pedestrian is a safe distance away from a forklift, to the point where he or she won’t have to worry about a lift accidentally driving over their foot.

In the event that a forklift operator is working in an area where many pedestrians are present, he or she should maintain a minimum distance of 4 ft. at all times. If the operator feels the work area is unsafe, he or she should notify their manager. The operator may want to forgo working at this location until pedestrians are no longer present.

Forklift Practices for Work Areas Where Pedestrians Are Present

For forklift operators working in areas where pedestrians are present, they should:

  • Do everything possible to keep the forklift away from pedestrians.
  • Use signage and painted lines to set up designated work areas for forklifts.
  • Ensure the lift’s horn and warning lights work properly and allow the lift to be heard and seen at a worksite.
  • Wear a high-visibility vest.

Forklift operators are required to receive training that accounts for pedestrian safety. The training teaches operators how to safely drive a lift in a wide range of work environments. It also provides tips and recommendations to help operators address their blind spots and manage traffic any time they use a lift.

Complete OSHA-Compliant Forklift Certification

To learn all of the essential safety protocols for maneuvering and traveling at speeds on forklifts, including the correct traveling distance between forklifts, you need to complete a comprehensive forklift certification training program. In this program, you can get insights into how to prevent accidents, recognize and avoid hazards, and protect your life. You can also learn the fundamentals illustrated above, among others, and complete a hands-on practical training with an experienced operator. Remember, many past forklift injuries and fatalities were ultimately caused by an untrained worker. Make education a priority and complete OSHA-compliant forklift training with the top online certification platform,

Our program only takes about an hour and can be completed 24/7 from any device that has an internet connection. Sign up today!

  • Warehouse Forklifts, Classes 1, 4, 5
  • Pallet Jacks and Order Pickers, Classes 2, 3
  • Rough Terrain Forklifts, Class 7

Students will learn everything they need to know to operate all types of forklifts properly, including how to maintain safe speeds, the correct traveling distance between forklifts, and how to avoid collisions with other trucks and on-foot workers.

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