In a noisy and hectic warehouse environment, the most direct way for spotters and forklift operators to communicate is by using the OSHA forklift hand signals.
Operating a forklift is a complex job that often becomes more difficult due to a loud and busy warehouse or worksite environment. Additionally, operators, spotters, and other employees regularly wear ear protection, which should improve the longevity of their hearing but makes verbal communication difficult and can interfere with situational awareness. All of the factors combine to create a potentially dangerous workplace.
The need to improve communication and boost workplace safety led to the creation of seven straightforward, OSHA-approved hand signals for forklift operators. Today, forklift hand signals and forklift safety go hand-in-hand (sorry, I had to do it).
OSHA and forklift signals
The 1960s are primarily remembered for the political and social turbulence of the era. However, one mostly forgotten aspect is the precarious state of ’60s workplace safety. During that decade, occupational injuries and illnesses increased in number and severity, disabling injuries rose 20%, and around 14,000 workers died on the job each year.
Public outcry prompted lawmakers to act. In Dec. 1970, President Nixon signed The Occupational Safety and Health Act into law, which led to the creation of OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration), a federal agency in charge of workplace safety. The law also allows states to run their own occupational safety and health programs, as long as the state’s standards are at least as effective as the federal ones. (Click the link for specific information on Texas OSHA laws and workplace safety.)
Throughout the years, OSHA created workplace safety federal standards for nearly every industry, including many that utilize forklifts (referred to on the OSHA site as “powered industrial trucks”). Regarding powered industrial, nope, sorry, I can’t; regarding forklifts, OSHA implemented various standards, including some for general design and construction, forklift inspection checklists, and hand signals for forklift operators and spotters.
By approving universal forklift hand signals OSHA created a common “language” used by operators and spotters across the nation (and the globe.) These standards help ensure that a new employee (assuming they’re properly trained) can step onto a job site and immediately nonverbally communicate with a spotter.
How to use forklift hand signals
There are seven universal forklift hand signals. To prevent miscommunication, every forklift operator is paired with a specific spotter. That spotter is the only person who should signal their forklift operator. The only exception is for the two “stop” signals. To prevent injury, material damage, and other accidents, all forklift operators should come to a halt if they see anyone signaling stop.
Consistent communication between the spotter and operator is essential. Operators often have an obstructed line of sight and can’t see obstacles or the condition of their load. So, it’s the spotter’s responsibility to watch for any complications and the operator’s responsibility to keep an eye on their spotter.
The seven forklift operator hand signals
Raise the tines
When it’s time to raise the forks, extend your right arm straight out. Then, bend your elbow to lift your forearm toward the sky, like you’re trying to show off a bicep muscle. Finally, point your finger straight up and move your hand in a circular motion. Keep twirling your hand until the tines reach the necessary height.
Lower the tines
To lower the forks, extend your right arm straight out with the palm of your hand turned toward the ground. Slowly lower your arm toward your body until the tines reach the desired level.
Move the tines
The arm you use for this signal is determined by where the forks need to go. Extend an arm straight out (similar to the first step in “lower the tines”) and point your finger in the desired direction.
Tilt the mast back
When it’s time for the mast to do the Rockaway and lean back, start the gesture by making a “big muscle” with your right arm (like the beginning of “raise the tines”). Then, point your thumb toward your head and slowly move your forearm toward your shoulder. Repeat this movement until the mast reaches the appropriate angle.
Tilt the mast forward
Point your right arm straight out like “lower the tines.” Make a fist and point your thumb toward the ground. Slowly lower your arm toward your body. If necessary, repeat the movement until the mast’s forward tilt is correct.
While this may sound like a delightful canine adventure, it actually instructs a forklift operator to pause due to an unexpected and potentially dangerous occurrence, such as a nearby pedestrian. To signal that it’s time to dog it, clasp your hands together at the waist.
While “dog everything” alerts the forklift driver to a potential hazard, the “emergency stop” signal indicates an accident or immediate danger. To gesture an emergency stop, extend both arms straight out parallel to the ground with your palms down.
OSHA advises posting a forklift hand signal chart on the equipment or visibly displaying one in the workplace. If you’d like a printable forklift hand signals graphic, click here.
The value of forklift hand signals
If a family is out to eat at a nice restaurant, and the parents notice that a child is using their hands to eat, often they will subtly indicate for them to use their silverware. Those movements are known as “fork lift hand signals.”
However, the forklift hand signals used by operators and spotters have much higher stakes, ensuring clear and direct communication in a busy workplace to prevent potential accidents.
If you’d like to learn more about the OSHA forklift hand signals and more ways to ensure a safe work environment, give Texas Motive Solutions a call at (888) 316-2459. In addition to providing information on various forklift safety topics, our forklift repair service team can help keep your equipment operating at peak performance. Please fill out a form to get more info about our services.