Forklift Operator Health Risks

6 Health Risks for Forklift Operators and How to Prevent Them


Long shifts. Sitting for hours at a time in a cramped cab. Twisting and craning your neck to see behind you. No doubt you’ve experienced some side effects from driving a forklift. As a forklift operator, no one said your job would be easy and the realities of your work mean you’re at risk for certain health issues.

Keep an eye on these health risks that are associated with frequently driving a forklift and take a look at the expertise provided by Dr. Chad Hoffman from Lifestyle Chiropractic, in Green Bay, Wisconsin.


1. Neck and Back Pain

Neck and back pain is often directly related to your work environment as well as poor habits you may have picked up along the way. A few causes of your pain could be:


Whole Body Vibration

Whole Body Vibration is the vibration, shaking or jolting of the body transmitted through a supporting surface – in this case your forklift seat, floor or back rest. It can make you predisposed to back pain or aggravate existing back problems.

Blurred Forklift in Warehouse

To avoid Whole Body Vibration:

  • Lower your speed
  • Use an air suspension seat - they decrease the vibration transferred to your body.
  • Minimize your travel over uneven surfaces


Sitting for Long Periods of Time

Sitting for long periods of time may be unavoidable in your line of work and you probably have to twist in your seat fairly often which causes strain to your muscles.

Dr. Hoffman’s Advice

"Even in cramped quarters where you have to maintain generally the same position for extended periods of time, do your best to regularly stretch your neck and surrounding muscles” says Dr. Hoffman. “Begin by gently tilting your head to one side and then the other, breathing deeply (don't hold your breath!). Next, tilt your head forward and back very slowly to relieve any muscular discomfort.”

  • When possible, take breaks to stretch. Simple stretches that can be done on the job will do.
  • Take time to readjust your seat when you return to your forklift. Your feet should rest comfortably and you should be able to easily reach the steering wheel, pedals and hydraulic controls. Use the backrest – it’s there for a reason!

More from Dr. Hoffman

“While sitting for extended periods may be unavoidable at work, do your best to break that pattern outside of work. Do simple body weight exercises such as squats, push-ups, sit-ups and walking/running to enliven your muscles and release any tension. It's crucial to move your body when you can - it not only helps you feel better (not as stiff), but will help boost circulation, lower blood pressure and improve your muscle strength, allowing your body to better adjust to any neck, back or joint pain you are experiencing.”


Poor Posture

Poor posture can sneak up on you when you’ve been sitting in the same position for hours. Make sure you avoid slumping forward to reach the controls. Don’t forget to remove your wallet from your back pocket. Your back will adjust for the uneven seating surface which causes strain.

Dr. Hoffman’s Advice

According to Dr. Hoffman, “studies show that posture also affects mindset. If you have poor posture regularly, chances are you aren't in the greatest of moods. Sure, work sometimes might get difficult, but do your best to sit up straight and your mind, not to mention your body, will thank you.”


2. Shoulder Pain

Your muscles can get stiff and sore thanks to the amount of time you spend on a forklift. Steering, operating the hydraulic controls, and repetitive motion can cause strain in your shoulders.

Keep these tips in mind to avoid muscle fatigue and shoulder pain:

  • Keep your elbows in while driving
  • When operating your controls try to keep your hand out in a handshake position rather than palm down.
  • Stretch regularly
  • Ask about getting a seat with an armrest – it can help protect your shoulders


3. Knee Pain

Forklift operators that drive stand-up forklifts can often experience knee pain. Simply standing a long period of time puts pressure on your lower body. When you’re also bracing yourself against the movement of the forklift, the pressure and strain increases.

For operators of sit-down forklifts – anytime you twist around, you’re can also be stressing your knees.

Take care of your knees and avoid pain by:

  • Using a knee brace
  • Sit down (if you’ve been standing) or walk for a few minutes every hour
  • Make sure you don’t jump down off the forklift. Use three points of contact whenever you enter or exit the lift.


4. Whiplash Injuries

Aggressive acceleration and stopping can cause whiplash injuries. Some symptoms that you may experience include:

  • Neck pain
  • Stiffness
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty concentrating

To avoid whiplash injuries take care to start and stop smoothly and pay attention to the forklift speed limits in your work environment.


5. Musculoskeletal Injury

Injury to your musculoskeletal system includes injury to muscles, tendons, nerves, discs, blood vessels and more. Early signs of musculoskeletal injury appear in the upper body including the neck, upper back, shoulders and forearms. Symptoms like severe pain and reduced movement can lead to the eventual inability to work.

Musculoskeletal injuries can be caused by jerking or repetitive movements that damage the muscle tissue.

To avoid musculoskeletal injuries:

  • Stretch regularly – Stretching before and after your shift can reduce strain on your muscles caused by repetitive movements. Take breaks to stretch during your shift to minimize your risk.
  • Use ergonomic seating if possible –Some features include swiveling bases, arm rests and weighted suspension which can make your shift more comfortable by protecting your neck, head, shoulders, back and legs.
  • Pay attention to the early signs. In addition to the signs listed above, fatigue is commonly associated with musculoskeletal injury.

Dr. Hoffman’s Advice

"If you are experiencing severe pain, or if the severity of a particular source of discomfort increases over time, it's in your best interest to see a health professional. Musculoskeletal injuries will likely not heal nor necessarily decrease in severity on their own.”


6. Fatigue

Fatigue is a serious hazard for forklift operators. Some of the signs of fatigue include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Muscle weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired decision making
  • Reduce alertness

To avoid fatigue:

  • Get a full seven to eight hours of sleep each night
  • Know your limit – don’t overwork yourself
  • Stay active – physical activity is known to boost energy levels
  • Drink plenty of water


By taking care of your body, you can reduce your risk for these health issues and many more.

Now that you've got practical tips to reduce your health risks, read 6 Common Forklift Accidents and How to Prevent Them to stay safer on your forklift.