Understanding and using forklift and telehandler hand signals is a simple way to reduce the risk of accidents.
Forklift hand signals allow for clear communication between an operator and a forklift spotter, even in the loudest work environments. That’s important because forklift accidents are too common. According to the National Safety Council, in 2020, forklifts were the source of 78 work-related deaths and 7,290 nonfatal injuries involving days away from work.
Utilizing the basic forklift and telehandler hand signals, especially when traveling around blind corners and any time the operator does not have a clear view of what’s in front of them, can help prevent material losses, injuries and even deaths. Learning these signals should be part of ongoing forklift training.
Forklift hand signals: The basic seven
Wondering which forklift hand signals OSHA recommends? OSHA doesn’t have any requirements around forklift signals. However, many jobsites adapt the hand signals OSHA uses for cranes and derricks. These signals indicate what to do with the forklift’s tines (forks), mast and brakes.
1. Raise the tines
Commonly, a spotter will need to tell the operator to raise or lower the tines. This moves the load up or down. To signal raising the tines, hold one arm out to the side with your elbow bent 90 degrees. Point your index finger to the ceiling and make a circle with your hand and forearm until the tines are at the correct height.
2. Lower the tines
This signal is used when the load should be dropped. Extend one arm out the side, palm facing down. Keeping your arm extended, lower it to mid-chest. Repeat the motion until the tines are where they should be.
3. Move the tines left or right
Signal to move the tines to the right or left by extending one arm out to the side (the arm nearer the direction the tines should move). Point your index finger in the direction you want the tines to go. Hold the position until they are in the correct spot.
4. Tilt the mast forward
Tilting the mast forward can make it easier to drop a load. To signal this request, extend one arm out to the side. Make the “thumbs down” signal with your fist so your thumb is pointed at the ground. Lower your arm toward your mid-thigh. Repeat as needed.
5. Tilt the mast back
Tilting the mast back helps secure the load by moving the weight closer to the machine’s center of gravity. To signal this request, extend one arm out to the side and bend the arm 90 degrees so the forearm points up. Extend your thumb and jerk it over your shoulder. Repeat this until the mast is at a good angle.
6. Dog everything
In forklift lingo, “dog everything” means to pause because there’s a potential hazard. A spotter might use this if someone walks into the path of the forklift. To signal “dog everything,” clasp both hands in front of your waist.
7. Emergency stop
Use the emergency stop signal only when there’s an immediate danger or an accident has happened. Cross your hands in front of your chest, then extend both arms straight out to the sides from the shoulder. It’s similar to the signal a baseball umpire uses to indicate a runner is safe on base.
Making sure your operators and forklift spotters understand and use forklift hand signals is a simple and cost-effective way to keep your worksite safer. Review these signals at regular intervals and display a forklift hand signals chart as a constant reminder.