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Training: How to operate a Forklift
Training: How to operate a Forklift

Learn how to operate a forklift in a warehouse and safety measures to follow

Vaibhav Pandey avatar
Written by Vaibhav Pandey
Updated over a week ago

It may seem that Forklift can be driven by someone who is trained to drive a car, but forklifts are harder to steer than cars, making them more difficult to navigate safely around a warehouse. A training material for operating a forklift is mentioned below in a few steps, though, you need and official training and operator’s certification before driving a forklift.

Step 1 - Performing basic checks before starting the Forklift

Climb into the forklift and start the forklift

Board the forklift from the left side. Once you’re sitting down, buckle your seatbelt so you’re safe.Find the shifter lever under the left side of the steering wheel. Make sure the lever is in the center position so it’s in neutral. Locate the emergency brake lever on the left side of the machine and make sure it’s pulled down and activated. Put the key into the ignition on the right side of the steering column and turn it forward to start the forklift’s engine.


  • Never grab the steering wheel while you’re pulling yourself into the cab.

  • If you’re in a standing forklift, make sure to put on the safety harnesses once you’re inside.

Operating the control levers and lifting the fork up by 2–4 in (5.1–10.2 cm)

Your forklift should either have 1 or 2 black levers that control the height and tilt of the fork located to the right of the steering wheel. Pull the lever to raise the fork’s 2 tines off the ground by 2–4 in (5.1–10.2 cm) so they don’t scrape the ground while you’re driving.


  • If you want, you can also tilt the tines backward to raise them even further.

  • Each forklift operates differently, so look at the forklift manual before operating any of the levers so you know exactly what they do.

Depress the brake pedal and use the shifter to change the direction you’re driving

Press the brake pedal with your right foot before pushing the lever for the parking brake forward. Push the shifter forward to drive or pull it back if you want to go in reverse. Keep your foot on the brake pedal while you shift so you don’t move around.

Whenever you stop, put the shifter back into the middle position to change it into neutral.

Pressing on the accelerator and Steering the forklift

Lightly press on the accelerator with your right foot to start moving. Grab the knob on top of the steering wheel to control it better. Spin the wheel in the direction you want to turn. When you want to make a turn at a sharp angle, wait until the back of the tines reaches the corner before starting your turn.

  • Some forklifts have a forward and reverse pedal. Check the machine’s manual to check what type of forklift you’re driving.

  • If you’re driving in reverse, make sure to always look behind you so you know where you’re going.

  • Honk the horn whenever you come to an intersection. That way, people who are crossing will know that you’re coming.

Step 2 - Loading the Forklift

Stopping your forklift when you’re 1 ft (0.30 m) from the load

When you’re in front of the load that you want to pick up, press the brake pedal so you come to a complete stop. Shift gears into neutral and turn on the parking brake.


  • Never adjust the fork unless you’re in neutral mode and the parking brake is on.

Adjusting the width of the tines

Loosen the nuts on top of each fork by turning it counterclockwise if your forklift has them. Lift the tine and slide it left or right to adjust the width. Set the width of the tines to about half of the load’s width. Make sure teach tine is the same distance from the center of the machine so your load stays balanced.


  • Some forklifts will have a lever inside the cab to automatically adjust the tines while other forklifts require you to manually change the width. Check with the operator’s manual to determine what you need to do.

Raising or lowering the forks to match the height of the pallet openings

Make sure the tines on your forklift are level before adjusting the height. Use the lever on the right side of your steering column to raise or lower the tines to the load height.


  • Only adjust the height of the fork while the parking brake is activated and the forklift is in neutral.

  • Make sure the load is stable and has a low center of gravity.

Drive forward until the fork is completely inserted in the pallet

While your foot is on the brake, shift the gear into the forward position and release the parking brake. Slowly move forward to insert the tines into the pallet openings. Continue driving forward until the tines are all the way inside the pallet. Then, shift back into neutral and activate the parking brake.


  • Some forklifts have an inching pedal to the left of the steering column so the machine moves slowly. Press down on the inching pedal instead of the accelerator for more control over your movements at a slow speed.

Lifting the load at least 2–4 in (5.1–10.2 cm) off the ground

While the parking brake is activated and the forklift is in neutral, lift or lower the load so it’s low to the ground. That way, you have fewer chances of tipping over or losing control.


  • If you’re lifting a load off of a shelf or stand, reverse away from where it’s raised before lowering it. Use your horn when you go in reverse to let others know you’re backing up.

Tilt the mast back until the load is stable

Use the lever to tilt the mast back to decrease the chance of tipping over. If the load is unstable or shifts around easily, strap it down to the pallet.


  • Don’t tilt the mast forward unless you need to put the fork underneath a load.

Step 3 - Unloading the Forklift

Positioning the mast in the vertical position

When you reach the location where you need to drop off the load, push the lever that controls the tilt forward to make the mast vertical again. Otherwise, you’ll lift or set your load down crooked.

Raising the load 6 in (15 cm) taller than the area you want to drop it

Make sure you have the parking brake on and the forklift in neutral while you adjust the height. Leave at least 6 inches (15 cm) between the forks and the place where you’re setting the load.


  • If you’re dropping the load on the ground, you don’t need to adjust the height since it should already be just above the ground.

Driving the forklift until your load is above the place you want to set it down Deactivate the parking brake and shift the forklift to forward. Slowly move forward until the load is directly over the place where you’re dropping it. When you’re in the right spot, press down on the brake pedal to stop and shift into neutral before applying the parking brake again.


  • If you’re setting your load down on a stand, make sure it’s centered over the stand before setting it down.

Lower the forks until the pallet is set down

Use the lever on the right side of the steering column to lower the load. Make sure the pallet has full contact with the surface underneath. You should be able to feel the weight of the load come off the forks once it’s set down.

Back straight out from the load to remove the tines

Check behind you to make sure no one is standing there. Shift the forklift into reverse, disengage the parking brake, and use the accelerator to slowly back out from the load. Make sure not to turn or else you could knock the load over.


  • Don’t forget to lower the fork closer to the ground before you start driving again.

Step 4- Parking the Forklift

Find a clear, level area, lower the fork and park the forklift

Park in an area that isn’t blocking any exits and has level ground. Press the brake pedal with your left foot to come to a complete stop before shifting gears into neutral. Pull the lever to activate the parking brake. Use the levers on the right side of the steering wheel to adjust the height of the fork. Make sure the tines are on the ground so they don’t create a tripping hazard. Once the fork is completely lowered and the parking brake is engaged, turn the key toward you to stop the engine.


  • Keep your foot on the brake until the parking brake is fully engaged.

  • Adjust the tilt of the mast with the lever if you tipped it backward while driving.

Watch a video on how to operate a forklift

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