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Understanding Forklift Controls – Acceleration, Braking, Hydraulics, & More

Posted by: admin on April 17, 2019

Forklift controls aren’t standard across the board. A rough terrain lift, for example, has a different forklift control panel than an indoor warehouse forklift. A pallet jack control cluster looks nothing like a heavy-duty dockyard or shipyard outdoor forklift.

The same thing is true with forklift speed control systems. If every forklift was designed with the same drivetrain, acceleration characteristics, and fuel efficiency guidelines, there would be no need to learn any unique forklift controls from forklift to forklift.

Thankfully, much like the near-endless choices of automobiles, forklifts come in many shapes, sizes, and styles. Consequently, forklift controls are often different not just between different types, but even between lifts from the same manufacturer. From forklift standup controls to forklift control panels, knowing how unique lifts operate is essential for efficient and safe operation.

What are the main categories of forklift controls? How do forklift speed control systems differ on specific powered industrial trucks? What are the most important elements of a forklift control panel? All great questions, and our safety and training experts here at CertifyMe.net have the answers!

Speaking of forklift controls…the most critical “forklift control” above all others is: you guessed it, the driver. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that every employer provides forklift training and certification for all powered industrial trucks, including:

Class 1: Electric Motor Rider Trucks

Class 2: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle TrucksClass 3: Electric Motor Hand or Hand/Rider Trucks

Class 4: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks – Cushion (Solid) Tires

Class 5: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks – Pneumatic Tires

Class 6: Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks

Class 7: Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors


CertifyMe.net has training courses for these forklifts, along with a Qualified Trainer/Evaluator Certification class. With seven different classifications of forklifts, it’s easy to see how forklift controls can get confusing. Let’s examine some different forklift controls, how they work, different functionality, and more!

Forklift Control Panel: Basic Overview

When it comes to a forklift control panel, it is important to learn as much as possible. Once a forklift operator knows the ins and outs of a forklift control panel, he or she will know the exact location of various forklift controls. Then, this operator

Before driving a forklift, you should always consult the manufacturer’s operation manual to familiarize yourself with the control system, including:

– Forklift control panel – gauges, instruments, etc.

– Forklift standup controls – unique control mechanisms for standup configuration lifts

– Safety controls – backup lights, alarms, etc.

– Forklift speed control system – throttle, acceleration, brakes, parking brake, etc.

OSHA requires every operator to have a basic understanding of all forklift controls, including forward & reverse controls, parking brake, and pedals. What’s more, the hydraulic controls are another critical forklift control system to learn. Many lifts have three primary control knobs. Each knob has its own function. These three controls are:

– Vertical movement

– Fork tilt

– Horizontal movement

Once you’ve mastered the hydraulic controls, you should also get a good grip (literally) on the steering system. When learned in tandem with the forklift speed control system, it’s easier to safely operate any forklift. Speaking of the speed controls, many lifts come equipped with a third pedal. Aside from the standard acceleration and brake pedals, this is called the inching brake. The inching brake allows precise control of the lift speed without impacting the forklift drive.

The forklift instruments are another important control – or rather, control status indicator. From the temperature gauge light to warning symbols to the main instrument panel, the forklift instruments help with overall forklift controls. The OSHA Powered Industrial Trucks e-Tool resource page has a wealth of information on typical forklift instrumentation layout, recommended actions, requirements, and more.

For a thorough overview of forklift controls, we recommend the OSHA e-Tool page for powered industrial truck controls. This information is recommended for any driver looking to learn more about general forklift control panels and more.

Due to the specialized nature of forklift controls these days, (as we stated earlier) it’s highly recommended to reference your lift’s manual for unique controls specifically designed for your equipment.

And of course, it’s required by law to have OSHA-compliant training and certification before operating any forklift. If your employees need to get up to speed with forklift control knowledge, or if you need to eliminate compliance and training gaps, sign up with CertifyMe.net today!

How Do You Use Forklift Controls Levers?

A forklift typically has two levers: one to control the height of the forks and another to control their tilts. To understand how to properly use forklift controls levers, it is paramount for a lift operator to complete an OSHA training program. This ensures that a lift operator is familiar with forklift controls levers and can use them to safely maneuver a lift into tight spaces, use the machine to pick up heavy objects and materials, and more.

What Are Forklift Pedals?

There are three types of forklift pedals: accelerator, brake, and clutch. A typical forklift has all three pedals present, but there are exceptions.

For instance, some forklifts have an inching pedal that is used to disengage the lift’s transmission and slow down the machine or bring it to a complete stop. Meanwhile, hydrostatic forklifts have two accelerator pedals that serve as directional controls.

What Are Directional Controls?

A forklift’s directional controls help move the lift forward and backward. There are three forklift directional controls: park, drive, and reverse. Directional controls can be mounted to a lift’s steering column. Or, they may be placed in a position where an operator controls them with their foot.    

What Is a Hydraulic Lift Mechanism?

Like directional controls, the hydraulic lift mechanism plays a key role in the functionality of a forklift. The hydraulic lift mechanism ensures that a lift can be used to raise or lower loads.

CertifyMe.net: In Complete “Control” of Your Forklift Compliance and Training

Forklift controls are important for safety on the job. On a related note, here’s a question to ask yourself: are you controlling your forklift training, or are your compliance issues controlling you?

Regain control of our company’s safety program with CertifyMe.net. We’ll get all of your forklift drivers compliant, all at a great price. What’s more, we offer 3-year renewal training for all our clients. See the difference an OSHA compliant, expert-level training partner can make – contact CertifyMe.net today and take care of your training needs!

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