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14 Useful Forklift Topics You Should Consider for Your Toolbox Talks

Forklift worker with management

Toolbox talks are an essential component of a comprehensive forklift safety training program. But many supervisors and safety managers quickly run out of topics to talk about, especially if they’re holding safety meetings on a regular basis.

To that end, here are 14 wide-ranging topics to consider discussing. Most run-of-the-mill toolbox talks will cover the compliance basics, and that’s certainly the case with tailgate talks about forklifts. The first couple of safety meeting ideas noted below offers some ideas on how you can round out mandatory forklift training with supplementary toolbox talks. But there’s more to forklift safety than simply meeting the bare minimum legal requirements of training people on how to drive a forklift or on getting people forklift certified, and the suggestions towards the end will offer ways to deepen your safety talks about forklifts.

#1. Review the safety regulations and best practices for forklifts in your workplace. 

There’s a decent chance that there will be too much to cover effectively in a single toolbox talk, and you’ll likely be more successful if you chunk it out into different categories, such as inspection and maintenance, rules of the road and pedestrian safety, and operational safety.

One tip here is to avoid reading out the regulations that apply to forklifts in your workplace. They tend to be wordy, filled with legal phrasing and, generally speaking, are hard to understand. As soon as workers hear someone reading from a legal safety standard, they’ll start to tune out. The key is to translate these standards into practical terms that are easy to understand.

The one exception to this don’t-read-safety-standards rule is the next toolbox talk idea.

#2. Translate the safety rule. 

Tell workers that you’re giving them a job to do in this toolbox talk: you’re going to read out the official standards and they need to tell you what they actually mean. (There’s a lot of room here to build a rapport with workers by joking about or leaning into the fact that forklift safety rules sometimes seem like they aren’t even written in English.)

Read out one safety rule, then ask them to explain what it means in the most basic, practical terms as possible. If you have the time, feel free to dig a little deeper by asking them a question like “So what does that look like in the workplace?” or “Where/when would that rule apply here?” This will help workers make a connection between the written regulations and the day-to-day reality of their job.

This talk can be particularly effective if you’ve been tasked with going over the legal standards with workers and want to cross it off your list without alienating workers.

#3. Forklift rules in real life. 

Another way to get forklift operators to internalize safety standards is to get them to think and talk about them in a different way. Consider reviewing a handful of forklift rules (it may be a good idea to bundle different sections of the rules as outlined in #1 above) and then asking them a few questions about them, such as:

  • Which rule do you think is most likely to be broken first today? Where’s it going to happen and why?
  • If you knew you were going to inadvertently break one of these rules yourself today, which one do you think it will be? What can you do differently today to avoid breaking it?
  • Which rule do you think someone is most likely to break if they’re tired? What if they’re in a rush? What if they’re distracted?

These questions can often generate discussion among workers and lead to debates. Whenever possible, let them talk back and forth about these rules, as this type of conversation will lead to a more ingrained understanding of the rules.

#4. Forklift inspection walk-through. 

Inspections are a great toolbox talk topic for forklifts. You could run through the inspection checklist, but that can get pretty stale. Why not flip the script and ask forklift operators to go through the inspection themselves?

You could ask one person to demonstrate how to inspect a forklift, and then ask the rest of the group if they missed anything. Or, you could ask each person to point out one thing that needs to be checked in an inspection. This collaborative effort can build a sense of camaraderie and improve engagement. This type of toolbox talk works much better if you have an actual forklift present, though it can succeed without one too. And if it turns out that collectively they missed one or more critical steps, it can make a pretty good case for the value of consistently using checklists.

#5. Discussion about forklift inspections. 

If you’ve recently reviewed what to look for when inspecting a forklift’s fitness for use, you could also have a conversation-based toolbox talk about:

  • the easiest issues to overlook when inspecting forklifts
  • what types of factors (like being in a rush) could cause people to forgo a forklift inspection
  • what might happen if forklifts aren’t inspected
#6. Collisions. 

Ask workers a handful of questions about forklift collisions, including the following:

  • Where in the facility or worksite is someone most likely to hit something with their forklift?
  • How fast are they likely to be going when they run into something?
  • What kind of object, equipment or person is most likely to be hit by a forklift? Will the thing/person being hit be stationary or in motion?
  • Is an incident more likely to happen if the forklift is carrying a load?
  • When during a shift is a forklift collision most likely to happen?

Encourage discussion when possible. If workers don’t seem to be engaging with each other’s responses, try to stoke a conversation by asking others to comment on a response or if they have any additional context to add to someone’s answer.

The goal of this forklift toolbox talk is to engage workers on an issue, and not to cover all the questions. It’s much more valuable to have a good conversation about a single question than to speed through the entire list.

#7. Most likely vs. most dangerous. 

One of the challenges of delivering toolbox talks to experienced forklift operators is that many of the worst-case outcomes—like flipping the forklift or running into a pedestrian—will feel to them like remote possibilities.

One way to shake off this complacency is to use your toolbox talk to discuss the forklift incidents that are most likely to occur (like damaging product) and compare them with the incidents that will result in the worst outcomes (like a serious injury or fatality).

Among the benefits of this type of talk is that it can highlight a broad range of incidents as well as get forklift operators to consider potential incidents in a new way.

#8. Speed. 

Speeding is a major contributor to forklift-related incidents. Consider holding a safety discussion that encourages employees to really engage with the topic. Instead of just telling them that speeding is a problem, try to get them to think about it for themselves, and to also consider when and how they’re most likely going to speed while operating a forklift in the workplace.

You could use familiar analogies to help them adjust their perception of speed like how slow a forklift may seem compared to driving your car and how your car can feel quick or slow depending on the conditions or scale of the roadway (doing 80 km/h on the highway feels slow compared to 80 km/hr on a bumpy side street in town) and also people have an intuitive sense of stopping distances of a car vs a fully loaded transport truck on the highway. A loaded forklift is three to four times heavier than a passenger vehicle in a much tighter operating area with lots more pedestrians so they should be driving like they’re trying to park a tractor-trailer in a busy mall parking lot rather than driving a BMW on the Autobahn.

To that end, ask them questions about how speeding increases the risk of incidents. (Common answers include less time to react and a higher magnitude of impact if a collision occurs.) You can also remind them that speeding—or rushing—isn’t just a matter of how fast they’re driving, but rather of how quickly they’re operating. Have workers discuss when they’re most likely to

speed/rush: by driving quickly? By raising/lowering the forks too fast? By hurrying through their inspection of the forklift? By talking about these issues, workers are more likely to stay aware of them throughout their workday.

#9. Human factors.

Rushing/speeding is perhaps the most obvious human factor that can affect how workers drive a forklift. But there are plenty of others too, including distraction, fatigue and frustration. These can all be major contributors to forklift incidents and deserve toolbox talks dedicated to highlighting them.

With that said, it can be rather difficult to cover human factors in a safety talk if workers haven’t been trained on them. If that’s the case, you’ll want to first conduct human factors training to help educate employees on what human factors are, how they can recognize them in real time, and what practical actions they can take to mitigate their effect. (One of the bonuses here is that human factors training will have a positive impact on forklift incidents, and it will also dramatically improve other types of safety outcomes as well.)

If your workplace has already taken the reasonable step to conduct human factors training, then you may want to hold periodic safety meetings to reinforce workers’ human factors-related skills. For example, you may want to ask workers which human factor they think could affect their ability to operate a forklift safely? Or for people who have been trained in SafeStart, which critical error reduction technique (or combination of CERTs) could they use to keep themselves safe? And which safety habit might have the biggest benefit when driving a forklift, or working near one?

#10. Consequences of forklift incidents

The direct consequences of forklift incidents are fairly obvious: equipment and product damage, and injury or death. But what if you spent a toolbox talk discussing the secondary and tertiary effects of forklift incidents.

If there’s major equipment damage or a massive spill caused by a forklift incident, who has to clean it up? And how does it affect the workday or production schedule? If someone is injured and has to miss time at work, how does it affect their ability to provide for their family or enjoy their life outside of work? And how does it impact their co-workers if the injured person is replaced by a new hire who is less experienced?

This type of toolbox talk for forklifts works a little differently than the others, in that it doesn’t try to get workers to change a specific set of actions. Instead, it makes them aware of the full impact of forklift incidents on themselves and others—and hopefully will make it feel more important to operate a forklift safely.

#11. Pedestrians. 

There are few things scarier than a serious incident involving a forklift and a pedestrian. This is one of those forklift topics that definitely deserves a toolbox talk all on its own.

One option to crank up the engagement on this is to put workers in the role of the trainer by asking them how they would teach a new co-worker how to avoid pedestrian-forklift incidents. If you need help keeping the discussion going, try asking them direct questions as if it were your first day on the job:

  • How can I tell if a pedestrian is paying attention?
  • Are there any signs or ‘tells’ that a pedestrian is about to step into the path of a forklift?
  • Where in the facility is a pedestrian most likely to get hit by a forklift? What time of day?
  • If I sound the horn but the pedestrian doesn’t seem to notice, what should I do?
  • What tips do you have for me to avoid hitting a pedestrian?
#12. Pedestrians. Again. 

Forklift operators aren’t the only workers who need to be trained about the danger these machines pose to people on foot. It’s just as important to educate pedestrians on how to safely work on a shop floor when forklifts are present.

All the topics in #11 above can be flipped on their head and presented to non-forklift drivers. How can they tell if a forklift driver is paying attention? What do they need to be aware of to avoid potentially being struck by a forklift? A toolbox talk or two on these issues can go a long way toward increasing their awareness of the risks posed by forklifts.

#13. Load capacity. 

In most forklift safety talks, load capacity only gets one or two bullet points. But if your facility makes regular use of forklifts then you workers will likely benefit from a toolbox talk dedicated to this topic. Consider reviewing not only the proper specifications of forklift load capacity, but also on practical guidelines on how to tell whether a load is an appropriate size and dimension for a forklift, and what kinds of factors (like rushing and overconfidence) might cause an operator to misestimate the size of a load.

You could have some impactful fun by quizzing them to calculate the safe load center for a given weight and height and as they struggle to compute it you can clap your hands loudly and say “too late, the load just toppled” and make the point about how difficult it is to calculate physics in real time so they need to think about these things before they start and stop to think whenever something changes—and leave a margin of safety for errors in estimation, calculation, etc.  

#14. Near misses. 

We don’t usually think about near misses or close calls as a forklift-specific topic. But toolbox talks and safety meetings are a great way to tie the two topics together, which could help boost the number of near-miss reports that are submitted about forklifts. And that can provide you with a great deal of insight into identifying gaps in the safety system and avoiding potential future incidents.

Spend the duration of the safety talk going over the ins and outs of reporting a near miss involving a forklift. What kinds of close calls should be reported? When and how should they be reported? Also consider discussing why near-miss reports are so important, and asking whether workers perceive any barriers to their ability or willingness to report near misses.

Conclusion

Have you already trained workers on how to drive a forklift safely, and made sure that every operator has their forklift certification? At that point, it’s time to do your best to keep the hazards and human factors involved in forklift operation at the front of their minds. And for many safety professionals, there’s no better way to do that than with toolbox talks about forklifts.

Also keep in mind that everyone else in the facility also needs to understand forklift operations, limitations and their responsibilities working around them. And that many of the principles also apply to other equipment and general safety habits. All told, conducting toolbox talks on forklift safety is a great way to improve employee awareness and reduce the risk of forklift incidents in the workplace.

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