Top 10 Must-Know Forklift Hand Signals for Your Fleet Operation

Top 10 Must-Know Forklift Hand Signals for Your Fleet Operation

Fleet Care | Forklift Repair | 04/26/2024
Written by Stacy Conner

1,725 and 10,509,000: do you know what these numbers have to do with forklift hand signals? Our friends in New Zealand do!

Our Kiwi neighbors have found that 1,725 new forklift injury claims were submitted in 2023 alone. The result? More than $10,509,000 in total costs were incurred.

That’s a ton of money that could’ve been saved with extensive safety procedures and forklift hand signals.

Forklift operators, drivers, spotters, and managers: executing a successful forklift operation isn’t easy. We completely understand.

For the last 20 years, we’ve become a successful fleet repair shop through trial and error. We provide helpful fleet maintenance and forklift repair resources to ensure more successful and dependable forklift operations to fleet and forklift teams across the Tacoma, Washington region.

If you’re wondering how forklift hand signals can help you become a safer team — and avoid hefty costs associated with forklift claims — we got your back. We’ll dive into the top 10, must-know forklift hand signals to help you keep your operation safe and profitable.

Hop in, and let’s go! We won’t let you down.

OSHA’s 7 basic forklift hand signals

A forklift operator hauling wooden pallets of sodas

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal organization created by Congress to ensure the health of workers in a variety of work settings. OSHA provides training, education, and help to workers in different industries.

At Equipment Experts, we use OSHA’s seven basic forklift hand signals to help ensure a safer, more profitable forklift fleet operation. The following forklift hand signals can help you learn to better operate your tines, masts, and brakes.

We hope you find as much value in these signals as we have. Let’s take a look at each of the seven hand signals.

1. Raise the tines

A forklift operator sitting in a forklift high off the ground

The first of our OSHA hand signals tells operators to lift the forks (also called tines). Forklifts use tines to raise loads to higher elevations.

Once the tines are high enough, operators can transfer materials and set loads with greater stability and precision. To signal to your team to raise tines, hold one arm out to the side, bend your elbow at a 90-degree angle, and point your index finger upward like you just had this year’s next great idea.

Make a circular motion with your hand and forearm. Once the tines are at the desired height, you can stop circling your hand and forearm.

2: Lower the tines

You’ll also want to know how to lower your forklift’s tines. Operators lower tines when bringing forks closer to the ground.

Operators may choose to lower tines to a lower elevation to help load and pick up new materials. Spotters then tell the operators to pick up the loads and place them in new locations.

To tell the operator to lower the tines, extend an arm out to the side with the palm facing down. While extending the arm, lower it to mid-chest.

Repeat this motion until the tines are where you want them to be. You’ll just want to make sure that throughout the motions, your communication is crisp and clear.

Doing so will help you avoid forklift accidents so you can keep your forklift in tip-top shape.

3. Move the tines left and right

You’ve learned the signals behind raising and lowering tines. Now, it’s time to learn how to move them left and right.

Forklift operators move tines left and right to better distribute a load’s weight. Moving a forklift’s tines left and right helps operators better adjust loads for proper placement.

What does this signal look like in action? To communicate this forklift signal, extend one arm out to the side.

This arm should be the arm nearest the direction the tines should move. Point your index finger towards the direction you want the tines to go. Hold your index finger in place until your forklift and load is in your desired spot.

4. Tilt the mast forward

A forklift operator lifting tines to carry wooden pallets

Another forklift hand signal that can help you get control of your fleet and forklift is tilting the mast forward.

The tilting motion helps better position the forklift to slide loads forward to the ground. Tilting the mast forward and closer to the ground will help better secure the load.

With a more secured load, you can better avoid potential hazards and unexpected worksite accidents.

To communicate this hand signal, extend one arm out to the side. Make a “thumbs down” signal with your fist, so that your thumb is pointed towards the ground.

Lower your arm towards your mid-thigh. Continue lowering your arm until the mast is at the desired angle for your needs.

5. Tilt the mast backward

Tilting the mast backward can help operators move the weight closer to the center of the forklift’s operation.  Operators can then better stabilize the distribution of weight across the forklift.

Tilting the mast backward can help prevent forklift accidents that can result from an uneven weight distribution across a forklift’s tines.

To make this signal, extend one arm out to the side and bend the arm at a 90-degree angle so that your arm is pointing up in an L-shape. Point your thumb up, and angle it over your shoulder.

Continue pointing and angling your thumb over your shoulder until the mast is at the right angle for your needs.

6. Dog everything (our favorite forklift hand signal name)

One of the most essential OSHA signals is the “dog everything” forklift signal. This signal tells a forklift operator to pause an operation.

This signal is used to prevent accidents. Spotters often use it when an unexpected safety hazard appears,  but the hazard hasn’t yet caused harm.

For example, let’s say an object falls — or a person walks — in the line of path of the forklift. The dog everything signal helps operators ensure the safety of all employees on the job site, by giving them time to assess what to do next.

To signal the “dog everything” signal, clasp both hands in front of your waist. It’s as simple as that.

7. Emergency stop

People with their arms and hands out making a forklift hand signal

Of the OSHA forklift hand signals every operator should know, the emergency stop signal is possibly the most important.

The emergency stop signal is used when danger appears imminent — or after an accident occurs. When this signal is used, forklift operations halt. Then, crews address the emergency.

Operators must obey an emergency stop order, and unlike other forklift signals, any worker on a job site may signal it.

To signal an emergency stop order, cross your hands in front of your chest, and extend both arms straight to your sides and at shoulder height.

You’ll know you’re doing this signal right if it looks like the signal that a baseball umpire uses when they deem a runner “safe” on base.

Non-OSHA, optional helpful forklift hand signals

An industrial-sized forklift carrying a freight shipping crate

We’ve covered OSHA hand signals for forklift operators in the sections above. But, you might be wondering, “Are there other helpful forklift hand signals?”

Yes! The following forklift hand signals aren’t OSHA-specific, but they can also help ensure workplace safety. Consider adding the forklift hand signals described in the following sections to your next forklift operation.

Raise/lower the forklift slowly

While not part of the standard OSHA forklift hand signals, a signal that indicates how fast to raise the forklift can encourage a safer environment for your spotters and operators. Consider adding this signal to your toolkit of helpful hand signals.

Move the forklift forward and back

A signal for moving forward and backward can help with moving loads into tight-fitting spots. This signal can tell operators which location is best for picking up and dropping off loads.

Honk the horn

Just like a standard truck, forklifts come equipped with a horn. You can use the horn when driving around corners or through blind intersections.

Though a horn may make a loud noise, sounding it can offer an added layer of protection from immediate job site hazards.

Use forklift hand signals to better communicate with your team

The Equipment Experts forklift and technician team with crossed arms and smiling at the camera

Clear communication is important on any job site. But, it’s particularly important when it comes to forklift safety.

The following forklift hand signals can help operators, spotters, and fleet managers better protect each other while on the job:

  1. Raise the tines
  2. Lower the tines
  3. Move the tines left and right
  4. Tilt the mast forward
  5. Tilt the mast backward
  6. “Dog everything”
  7. Emergency stop
  8. Raise and lower the forklift slowly
  9. Move the forklift backward and forward
  10. Honk the horn

While every forklift operation is different, every fleet manager should take note of these forklift hand signals. Doing so can help keep you safe.

And when you’re safe, you’re more likely able to boost KPIs, fleet metrics, and your overall profitability as a fleet.

But in case you need a little help with forklift safety, we’re here for you. With over 20 years of experience helping resolve problems with trucks, diesel fleet vehicles, heavy equipment, liftgates, and yes, forklifts, our master forklift technicians have the knowledge and experience to get you back to lifting at peak capacity.

If you need forklift maintenance — or want to learn more about how to keep your forklift operation reliable and profitable — don’t hesitate to contact the Experts today. We’d be happy to help!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Forklift Hand Signals

A forklift operator lifting crates of IPA beer with the tines of the forklift

How many forklift hand signals are there?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Workers’ Safety & Compensation Commission (WSCC) have a number of standard hand signals for forklifts. Every business uses different forklift signals, but in general, there are about 10-20 different signals to help with forklift safety.

Why use forklift hand signals?

Consider the following facts:

Given the rising popularity of forklifts, proper forklift hand signals and preventive maintenance procedures can go a long way in decreasing the odds of an accident occurring.

How can forklift hand signals contribute to workplace safety?

Forklifts tend to operate in loud and busy areas.. Imagine what could happen if an operator has an accident (ouch).

Forklift hand signals help ensure clear communication without taking away time or precious resources needed to complete a job.

What should forklift operators/spotters do if they don’t understand a forklift hand signal?

Operators and spotters should stop — or “dog everything” as the forklift hand signal is called — if they misread a hand signal. Continuing to operate a forklift despite misreading a signal can lead to potential accidents.

Accidents can lead to the need for extra forklift and fleet maintenance. Spotters and operators would be smart to halt everything if at any point they feel they don’t understand what’s communicated on the job.

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