How To Operate Stand-Up Forklifts

When it comes to navigating particularly narrow aisles, there are few vehicles more effective than stand-up forklifts. These versatile machines are enhancing warehouse operations by improving efficiency and potentially reducing forklift-related accidents. However, this can only be true if operators know how to operate stand-up forklifts properly. While this guide is not designed to replace training, it can help operators begin to understand the basics.

Differences Between a Stand-Up and Sit-Down Forklift

Even if an operator has experience driving a sit-down forklift, it doesn’t mean that they know how to operate a stand-up forklift. While both machines operate based on similar principles of balance and stability, they utilize different controls. Sit-down forklift controls are comparable to a car’s controls, with a steering wheel and multiple pedals. Stand-up forklifts use a lever instead of a steering wheel and typically only have a single pedal.

Along with operational differences, stand-up forklifts are also more maneuverable than their sit-down counterparts. They are often smaller and can make sharper turns. Along with this, they allow operators a full range of visibility when they need to travel backward. Because they allow operators to be closer to the ground, operators are less likely to be injured when they leave the forklift. This makes stand-up forklifts ideal for situations when operators need to exit the forklift frequently.

Important Skills for Operating a Stand-Up Forklift


As with any forklift or heavy machinery, it is essentials that operators receive training about what to look for when inspecting a stand-up forklift. Operators should inspect the forklifts every time they use a stand-up forklift. Some of the aspects they should examine include:

  • Whether tires are inflated properly
  • Fluid levels
  • Gas levels (if using a gas-powered forklift)
  • Battery levels (if using a battery-powered forklift)
  • Forks and mast
  • Safety lights

Securing the Load

When securing the load on a stand-up forklift, you will want to ensure that the forks are correctly spaced. The width between the forks should be between one-half and three-fourths of the width of the entire load or pallet. At times, it may be necessary to tilt the forklift forks back in order to keep the weight of the load closer to the machine’s center of gravity.

When lifting the load, avoid extending the forklift’s mass to its complete height. This may cause the load to become unstable and tip over the forklift. If you’re are traveling without a load, be sure the forks of your stand-up forklift aren’t pointed directly out but are slightly tilted up.

Starting a Stand-Up Forklift

To start a stand-up forklift, turn the key. When you tilt the control handle forward, your machine will immediately start to travel forward. This will happen rapidly, so operators should tilt the handle forward gradually to avoid crashing the forklift.


As mentioned, stand-up forklifts do not use a wheel but a lever that is operated with one hand. Even so, the lever still operates similarly to a normal steering wheel. When you are traveling forward in the forklift, turning the wheel to the right will turn the forklift right, and vice versa. When the forklift is operating in reverse, these controls may become inverted, requiring you to turn the wheel in the opposite direction that you want to travel in.

Methods of Stopping a Stand-up Forklift

Emergency Brake

There is an emergency brake by the operator’s feet called the “deadman’s pedal.” This will bring the forklift to an abrupt stop, but should only be used in the case of an emergency or when braking on an incline. Because this method stops the forklift so abruptly, using this can cause the load or the driver to become unbalanced.

Releasing the Handle

In most instances, operators will simply release the handle completely to stop the forklift. This will cause the forklift to roll a small distance, coming to a gradual stop. When an operator has a good feel for their machine, they will be able to know how early to pull back on the handle to come to a safe stop in time with this method.


If an operator wants to stop a machine more abruptly without employing the emergency brake, they may use a technique called plugging. Plugging involves pulling the control handle in the opposite direction that it was traveling before. The forklift will come to a more gradual stop than the deadman’s pedal, but the stop will be more sudden than releasing the handle. Mastering this technique requires continued practice with a machine.

Common Mistakes

Making Sharp Turns

The stand-up forklift is designed to maneuver through narrow aisles. However, that doesn’t mean that its turning capabilities are limitless. Taking a turn too quickly can cause a forklift to tip over, especially when carrying a load. When approaching the forklift, release the control handle to slow down. Once the front wheels reach the corner, begin making the turn. Different forklift models will handle turns differently, so turning safely is also a matter of practice for operators.

Not Signaling Intent

Operating a forklift safely isn’t just about working the controls well or even about navigating around walls; rather, it’s about navigating around other workers in a space, and this means signaling one’s intent when traveling. Pedestrians walking around a stand-up forklift may assume that because the operator has full visibility that they will see them and move around them. When traveling in reverse, it is best practice to honk the horn, alerting pedestrians to get out of the way.

Locking Your Knees

Typically, forklift operators aren’t perfectly still for very long. However, if you find yourself standing in your forklift for extended periods of time, be mindful of how you stand. Locking your knees hinders blood flow to the brain, which can cause fainting. This is especially true if the operator is dehydrated. This can be avoided by remembering to bend one’s knees a few times every minute and to drink plenty of water.

Stand-up forklifts can be a valuable addition to any company’s fleet, but a machine is only as valuable as the individuals operating them. At Toyota Material Handling, we help your workforce continue to improve by providing forklift safety training. This will help keep your employees and fleet operating smoothly.

How To Operate Stand-Up Forklifts