What Does a Forklift Operator Do?

A forklift operator can usually be found in a warehouse setting.
A forklift operator may unload ship or aircraft cargo holds.
Forklift drivers are the people who operate forklifts.
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  • Written By: Whitney Coy
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2014
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A forklift operator uses a powered industrial truck, or forklift, to move materials. He or she may work in a variety of settings, but is most often found in a warehouse facility or a factory setting. Operators may also work in supply yards and on loading docks.

Forklift operators are often responsible for loading and unloading trucks. Depending on where they work, they may also unload ships or airplane cargo holds. Most freight is loaded onto pallets, enabling the forklift to pick it up easily using the fork. Some especially heavy or unusually shaped freight may not be on a pallet, and may need to be picked up directly by the fork.

These inventory movers sometimes serve as the front line of damage control, as forklift operators may be required to inspect all inbound and outbound packages. They might also be responsible for picking orders or ensuring all inbound freight is stocked properly. A person in this position may be required to keep track of paperwork related to the materials they move.


A license or some type of specialized training may be required to work as a forklift operator, depending on the workplace. In the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that no operator be under the age of 18. OSHA provides rules and guidelines for people in this position to follow, such as requiring each forklift operator to inspect his or her forklift at least once per day, including checking fluid levels, tires, and safety features. OSHA rules also govern mounting and dismounting, starting and stopping, speed, maneuvering, parking, and visibility.

A forklift is a heavy piece of machinery and can cause property damage, injury and even death if not operated properly. It is important for a forklift operators to follow all safety rules provided by their workplace related to forklift operation. They should not only be knowledgeable in the correct operation of a forklift, but must also be very aware of their surroundings. Ramp condition, aisle width, and enclosed areas are all hazardous conditions for the operator, who mus also always be on the lookout for pedestrians.

There are also a number of OSHA rules regarding the handling of a load on a forklift. Proper training will ensure a forklift operator can not only drive a forklift safely, but also wreck a forklift as safely as possible. A wreck is sometimes unavoidable on any type of powered industrial truck, and training should teach forklift operators to handle those situations as safely as possible.


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