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Forklift Operator Ergonomics

Filed under: Forklift Operators - Safety & Guides

Forklift operators spend a vast majority of their time sitting and twisting, resulting in a number of physical strains. After an eight hour shift one would expect to be, at least, a little sore and stiff. Improving operator ergonomics is critical for forklift manufacturers in ensuring operators are as productive in their last hour of work as they were in their first. Each advance in technology has improved operator comfort, but a full shift as a forklift operator it still challenging, particularly for the lower back.

There are a number of ways to improve operator ergonomics, other than waiting for the next advance in technology. Today’s blog will take a look at the risks of operator discomfort and what operators and the businesses they work for can do to improve upon operator ergonomics.

Hyster forklift

What are the risks of operator discomfort?

The awkward postures, vibration, jolting and repetitive nature of forklift driving can easily result in the development of musculoskeletal symptoms. The early signs of musculoskeletal injury are most commonly experienced in the neck, shoulders, upper back and the forearms. Discomfort, pain and reduced movement are some of the bodies warning signs.

What are the consequences?

• Left unchecked, musculoskeletal injury can progress to severe pain, reduced movement and eventually the inability to work.
• Sudden acceleration and hard breaking can cause mini whiplash injuries.

Operator twisting to reverse

How can driver discomfort be reduced?

Slow Down

Speed multiplies the impact of all stresses on the body. Going faster may get the job done at a quicker rate but it increases shock and vibration, not to mention the chance of an accident. Shock and vibration causes muscles to work harder. Therefore the operator will become fatigued much quicker than usual. Fatigued muscles lead to bad posture, which along with repetition, are two of the most common causes of musculoskeletal injury.

Slow down sign


30 second stretches involving hands, shoulders and neck, throughout the day does a great deal to ease discomfort. Unrelieved static posture is a serious health risk. For forklift drivers, who have been confined to the controls with little or no movement, it is important to take micro-breaks and stretch appropriately.

Drawing of man stretching his arm


Workers at all levels should be trained in good posture and should be made aware of the five point check:

1. Remove wallet from back pocket - this will reduce back discomfort.
2. Upon sitting down, lean forward and shift hips to the back of the seat, positioning the spine with the correct three curve alignment.
3. Slide seat forward so that feet are resting comfortably and the steering wheel and pedals are within easy reach.
4. Adjust the backrest so it is tilted slightly backward.
5. Ensure the forklift seatbelt is worn.

Picture of teaching


Any area of the warehouse that causes a forklift operator to jolt and exacerbates physical discomfort should be repaired. For example, it is necessary to ensure the ramps between loading docks and trailers fit correctly. Otherwise there is likely to be jolting on the forklift as the driver may need to accelerate hard in order to mount the ramp and then break as soon as possible.

Forklift operators will be able to point out areas of the warehouse that need fixing, such as old and rigid floor surfaces or potholes. It is important that the operator is able to keep all four wheels on the ground in order to minimise any discomfort.

cracked floor

Operator Seat

If the forklift seat is worn or cheaply made, this does not provide the support an operator needs and can result in serious consequences.  An operator can develop varying levels of physical damage from strain, severe pain or the inability to work as a result of constant vibrations and shock from inadequate seating in forklifts.

New ergonomic seating, for forklifts, takes into consideration the natural sitting position of the body and compliments ones posture.
Ergonomic seating can now include:

•        Leg, head, shoulder, and neck protection in case of tip-over
•        Swivelling base for increased visibility and needless twisting
•        Armrests to prevent fatigue
•        Weighted suspension that guarantees comfort for all operators

Ergonomic hyster seat

How has technology improved ergonomics?

Many tools can be used in conjunction with the forklift to reduce the need for contact twisting, turning, neck craning and hard breaking:

• Mirrors and CCTV cameras can provide good all round visibility of the work area.
• Sensors can be mounted on the truck or racking to lift the forks to exactly the right height without extreme neck craning.
• Man-up systems are much safer and can yield efficiency gains.

Ergonomics has become increasingly important as the risks of operator discomfort due to repetition, constant jolting and static posture have become more apparent. It is up to both employers and forklift operators themselves to ensure they do everything possible to ease discomfort. Although, stretching, slowing down or training can take time out of one’s day an operator will be healthier and therefore more productive as a result.


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Really appropriate knowledge for the readers of this blog.

Shrink Wrapping Machines | Cryovac Shrink Films
December 20, 2012 - 8:37 pm

Hello, I did enjoy the post. I have been operating lift trucks now for about twenty years. In the last few, my Co. has been using an articulating forklift. The lock to lock ratio on these machines are much greater than conventional lifts. This year I have sustained a lot of shoulder pain and discomfort. I am looking for answers and suggestions. I can say the wear on my shoulder has been so bad that I had to park the machine and report to my supervisor that I could not continue… First time in 20 yrs I was not physically able to unload freight with a forklift. I will be 40 yrs of age this year. Seems too young to have this sort of injury.

July 01, 2014 - 1:49 pm

  I have driven tele handlers on construction sites for over 15 years and have now had to request a move onto a different part of the company off of the fork truck
driving it has become unbearable due to severe headaches ,constant neck ,upper back/spine pain ,aching and tingling in shoulders ,I have been diagnosed with cervical spondylosis which would be bearable normally but the job has made it very painful on my upper spine .The demands on the body driving the machine on a very busy/active and tight site are not recognised by a lot of people who have never experienced it , looking up reversing twisting what probably accumulates to thousands of times a day
I am hoping that I have not done any permanent damage but it has got a lot worse in the last 4-5 years , painkillers are my friends
I suggest anyone who is a regular operator to get advise on seating and exercises that can be used to stretch the affected areas

February 15, 2015 - 3:14 am

    I will deliver this message to our workforce in tool box meeting

Tilak Ram Ghimire
July 09, 2015 - 5:53 am

I didn’t know that so much consideration was put into seats like this! It makes sense that they wouldn’t want to have the drivers be uncomfortable. Poor posture can be terrible for your health.

Braden Bills
October 13, 2016 - 3:53 am

  Hello, My Employer keeps increasing the demand to drive in reverse even with loads low enough for full forward view. am concerned about work related illnesses increasing as a result. these are 12 hour rotating shifts. what can I do to get them to rethink these demands?

Lori Flores
March 28, 2017 - 8:47 am

Hi Lori, there are guidelines in regards to operating forklifts with loads safely. These are provided via WorkSafe in you relevant state. Contacting them would be your best avenue of action and they can provide you with further information.

AAL Admin
March 29, 2017 - 4:05 pm

    I drive a fork lift, I developed a pain to my right foot ball joint, so I started using my left foot on the gas pedal, I would shift my weight onto my right thigh, and now I have constant pain in my right thigh, when driving or not driving , I’m forcing my self to use my right foot now , but I still have the pain, any help would be good.               

July 01, 2017 - 11:36 pm

We have Toyota counterbalance forklifts at my current work & they are the definition of dog sh*! - worst seats in the market (no lumbar support whatsoever),  massive throw in the levers (huge movements to move them from up to down, instead of little toggles), stupid stupid “split” handbrake (stiff pedal to turn on, flimsy cheap plastic hand lever to remove), cheap plastic clipboard that lasts all of 5 days after you buy the forklift before it breaks, & the worst steering wheel out there (the stupidly BIG BUS size aside, it takes FOUR TURNS lock-to-lock?? Really? 1440 Degrees???). Yet I hear these are the most popular counter balance forks in the country. People really are sheep, who blindly follow the brand. Lindes and Hysters are on another level in every sense, much better forklifts.

August 23, 2017 - 7:28 pm

This is great information for the sit down forklifts but you don’t address the possible issues with the standup forklifts??             

Char Bowles
October 31, 2018 - 2:45 am

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