Forklifts can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. However, in the right hands, they are incredibly beneficial machines, both in their power and efficiency. All forklift operators need to go through OSHA-approved training in order to use their skills to adapt to this specific field of work. Forklift maneuvering isn’t for everyone, but those with the right skillset can learn how to become experts in the field with the right guidance. From sharp focus to good math skills, this guide will explain the most important skills needed to be a successful forklift operator.
An Understanding of Technical Components
Forklift operators carry out daily pre-shift inspections to remain safe and in accordance with OSHA guidelines. To carry out inspections successfully, an operator needs to have an understanding of each technical component of their forklift. These technical components include the type of fuel the forklift runs on, overall fluid levels, hoses, belt/pulley tension, forks, mast, counterweight, and even the mirrors. In other words, forklift operators need to know how to tell when the forklift is having issues and needs repairs, or when it needs to go through its scheduled maintenance.
Furthermore, forklift operators need to know how to locate and read the data plate, which is typically somewhere near the front of the vehicle. This data plate lists all of the vital information for understanding how the forklift functions, including maximum loading capacity, lifting height, and tilt distances. Not all forklifts are the same, so it’s important that operators not just have a broad understanding of forklifts in general, but also an understanding of the specific forklift they will be using. For instance, if the forklift is battery-powered, the operator needs to know the proper battery recharging and cleaning practices in order to keep it functional.
Newcomers to the field of forklifts might not realize this at first, but it’s important to know that being a forklift operator requires utilizing math skills on a daily basis. The reason for this is that forklift operators will need to calculate loads and bills of lading. Forklift operators need to understand how to balance the weight of loads on the forklift to keep the vehicle from tipping over. If a forklift load isn’t properly balanced, it can tip and cause damage to the load, forklift, the surrounding environment. Even further, forklifts tipping over can lead to the driver and nearby pedestrians sustaining injuries or worse, death.
During shifts, forklift operators need to carry loads without knocking into walls, shelving units, and of course, nearby pedestrians. To do this, operators need to keep an eye on their surroundings in order to adjust their course for any reason. Being observant is also important for forklift operators because they need to be able to spot hazardous working conditions. This goes hand in hand with knowing when to repair or carry out routine maintenance on forklifts. Even beyond that, hazards can be in the surrounding environment as well.
Potential hazards in the work environment include debris on the floor, spills, leaks, and other obstructions that can lead to collisions or tip-overs. A responsible forklift operator must be observant enough to watch for these hazards while safely maneuvering throughout the workplace.
This is necessary for nearly every job, but it’s particularly key when it comes to forklift operators. It’s equally as important to have good operational skills as it is to have solid communication skills, too. This is because forklift operators will typically be working in an environment in which other employees will be walking around and working in every day.
With a strong ability to communicate with fellow employees, forklifts will be able to work in tandem with everyday foot traffic without a problem. For example, there are many situations in which forklift operators have to make their presence known to nearby pedestrians, such as when moving through crossings. Additionally, in situations when forklift operators don’t have enough visibility to move through a specific area, they will need to know where to find someone who can act as a spotter. Bad judgment calls such as thinking a lack of visibility isn’t an issue and moving through an area anyway will lead to accidents in the workplace that could’ve been easily avoided.
Keeping a strong line of communication between forklift operators and their team will ensure they know where to go and which areas to avoid each day. If a forklift operator doesn’t have a clear sense of what they need to do or where they need to go, it’s vital that they discuss it with their team. If they don’t and randomly drive around the workplace, they pose a major hazard to anyone nearby. However, with a clear line of communication, they’ll be able to stay where they need to be in order to keep the workplace safe and the workflow efficient.
Maintaining a Responsible, Reliable Work Ethic
It’s necessary for forklift operators to uphold safety and efficiency while maneuvering loads each and every day. Supervisors rely on operators to come in on time, carry out their pre-shift inspections, and make good judgment calls on load balance and forklift maneuvering. Forklift operators are also expected to maintain safe driving, parking, loading, unloading, and cleaning practices during each shift. If an employer can’t rely on their forklift operators to do these tasks and any other relevant tasks, then they should seek more suitable candidates. As mentioned earlier, forklifts can be immensely useful, but they can also be very, very dangerous in the wrong hands.
As you can see, it takes a lot to become a forklift operator. It might seem like a simple activity to some, but it takes immense focus, knowledge, and safety. The reason these are the most important skills needed to become a successful forklift operator is that they encompass the awareness of safe operating practices and the understanding of technical components that this field requires.
If you’re ready to send an employee through the certification process, we’re here to help. At First Quality Forklift Training, we can provide forklift certification training in Wisconsin and in the upper areas of Michigan. Once a trainee has earned their certification, they’ll be ready to get into the field and really put their skills to the test.