2 men at a forklift having a conversation

Forklift or Lift?


Forklifts are a common, highly valued piece of equipment used to transport and handle heavy loads in warehouses and businesses across America. In fact, they are widely found in warehouses, agricultural, military, construction, and industrial job sites all over the world.  Lifts are also frequently used, highly in demand, and a critical tool in many industrial job sites. But each machine has different uses and strengths. Knowing when to use which and how to use them safely is critical. Here’s a brief overview of the two machines.  

Scissor Lifts 

These lifts can be electric- or gas-powered platforms, mounted on folding arms to provide elevated work areas or help raise or lower unit loads. Additional features of these lifts can include electrical outlets or compressed air connectors for power tools, specialized equipment, such as carrying frames for window glass, and platforms extending “bridges” to allow closer access to the work area available on select models.  


Forklifts are more mobile than other types of lifts, but may not be as high reaching. They vary in specified maximum weight and a specified forward center of gravity. They are mostly equipped with rear-wheel steering for increased maneuverability to help in tight cornering situations. Forklifts are equipped with the traditional “fork” or finger levers for control, have load capacities generally between one and five tons, and have attachments including side-shifters, rotators, fork positioners, pole attachments, and more.  

Safety Protocol 

Forklift operators should wear the right clothing to make sure they are staying safe on the job. While engineering and administrative controls are always the first line of defense against injuries in the workplace, personal protective equipment (PPE) plays a critical role for operators. PPE for forklift operation should include eye protection, such as protective glasses, head protection or hard hats, hand protection or safety gloves, earplugs, and proper footwear. Before lifting anything, make sure that loads are secure. Injuries from falling items can be very dangerous and should be taken very seriously. Before operating your lift, make sure that the load is secure.  

Actionable Safety Tips

Inspect lifts before every use. Daily checks with the shift supervisor are recommended to identify and log any problems or defects. Any equipment that requires repair should never be operated. Some of the recommended checks include: 

  • Test operating controls such as brakes, lights, horn, and steering wheel. 
  • Check mast and overhead guard for damage. 
  • Examine tire and fluid levels (hydraulic, brake, engine, fuel, and coolant). 
  • Check for water, oil, or radiator leaks. 
  • Ensure the forks are in good condition (e.g. straight, no cracks, no distortion). 
  • Look for potential hazards. 

Keep forks low to the ground to provide clear forward visibility. If the load restricts your visibility, operate the equipment in reverse. Always ensure you have a good view of the rack when you are positioning the load. Additional best practices defined by OSHA are: 

  • Always make eye contact with pedestrians and other workers. 
  • Always look in the direction of travel. 
  • Use rear-view mirrors to boost visibility. 
  • Use headlights at night, outdoors, or in areas where additional lighting is needed. 

Before using a forklift, make sure your hands and shoes are completely dry and sit in a comfortable position with all the controls within reach. In addition to seating yourself securely, take the following steps before operating the forklift to increase your safety. 

Each forklift has a center of gravity – the point where the weight has equal concentration – that it shares with the load it carries. Built on a three-point suspension system, operators must stay within this “stability triangle” to prevent the machine from tipping over. The heavier the load, the further out the center of gravity is from the load center, decreasing your forklift’s lifting capacity. 

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