How to Signal a Forklift


Forklifts are the workhorses of many industries and construction sites. However they are only as good and as helpful as the spotter signalling the operator. A forklift operator cannot see where the load is going well enough to be left to do it all himself. How to signal a forklift is easy to learn. The signals are universal and can be used on any construction site in any country.

Things You'll Need

  • Work gloves
  • Put on a pair of work gloves. While you can signal a forklift with your bare hands, any type of light-colored glove will increase the size and visibility of your hands so the forklift operator can understand your instructions more easily.

  • Tell the forklift to begin to move forward with the load. Bend your arms at the elbow and clench your fists. Bring your fists in front of your chest and slowly roll one fist over the other away from your body (this looks strikingly similar to a type of disco dance). If you need to tell the forklift to reverse, extend both arms straight out to the side, level with your shoulders, with your palms facing down for a moment (the sign for stop), then return your fists to in front of your chest and begin to slowly roll them over each other toward your body.

  • Tell the forklift to stop by extending both arms straight out to the side, level with your shoulders, with your palms facing down when it is in position to lift the load. Clasp your hands together in front of your chest: This will tell the operator he is in position and needs to set the brakes and any outriggers down and prepare to lift the load.

  • Tell the operator to raise the tines or boom by holding your right arm up (bent at the elbow as if you are getting ready to wave), pointing your index finger toward the sky, and moving your hand and forearm in an exaggerated circle. When the forklift has reached the right height, clench your fist and stop moving your forearm. This will let the operator know to stop moving the tines or boom.

  • If you need the operator to adjust the angle of the mast or boom to a greater degree, hold your right arm as if your are getting ready to wave, clench your fist and extend your thumb, and repeatedly move your thumb toward your head, back to the original position, and then toward your head again. To have him decrease the angle (lower the boom), extend your right arm straight out from your shoulder, clench your fist and point your thumb down. Then begin moving your arm toward the ground, back to the original position and then toward the ground again until the boom has reached the right angle.

  • Unload the forklift by telling the operator to tilt the tines (or forks) down. Do this by holding your arm out straight from your shoulder with your palm extended and rolling your hand back and forth (thumb side to ground, then straight, then thumb side to ground).

  • Extend the boom, if needed to place the load, by holding both arms in front of you with your elbows bent toward your chest and your forearms pointed straight toward the sky with your fists clenched. Point both thumbs away from your body and repeatedly move your fists together and apart. To tell the operator to retract the boom, it is the same maneuver, only hold your thumbs so they face into each other.

Tips & Warnings

  • After each instruction for movement with the boom or mast, give the operator the clenched fist signal to let him know that the instruction is over and a new one will begin. This will keep the operator in perfect control of the machine in accordance with your needs to land the load.
  • The operator most know who his designated signal person is and only take directions from that person, or an accident could occur from confusion over directions. The operator must understand that the only signal that he must follow from anyone on the job site is the signal for "stop." Review these guidelines with your operator and designated signal person to avoid accidents.

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