Operating Forklifts on Inclines, Ramps and Grades

Follow these six simple forklift rules of the road whenever operating a forklift on ramps, grades and inclines. Our forklift rules outline procedures when operating on a slope that could help improve efficiency at your workplace and help reduce forklift-related incidents.

Improper operation of a forklift on any ramp or grade can result in an incident, so making sure that your forklift operators follow established best practices when moving up and down ramps, slopes and grades should be a high priority for any warehouse manager in order to keep a workplace both productive and safe. Following these six rules when operating forklifts on ramps and grades can help reduce workplace incidents.

1. Safe Operation

Every forklift manufacturer provides an Operation and Maintenance Manual (OMM). Always read and follow the manual’s instructions to help ensure the safe operation of the forklift. In addition, Federal and State OSHA, as well as ANSI/ITSDF B56.1, provide additional requirements and guidance on proper forklift operation on slopes.  Make the OMM an integral part of operator training and keep these manuals accessible.  Most forklift manufacturers have a designated location on the truck to store these manuals.

By using the OMM as part of training and referring to it often, you can help decrease the risk of injury to the operator, co-workers and bystanders. If the OMM for your forklift is missing, contact your local dealer for a replacement.

What is the maximum allowable slope for a forklift?

The maximum allowable slope depends on the type of forklift being used. Each manufacturer provides a gradeability rating to their forklifts which identify the grade that forklift can climb and stop at full capacity. The highest gradeability forklifts can reach up to a 40% gradeability rating. 


You can calculate the grade of any ramp or slope in your workspace by measuring the length and height of the ramp – also known as the “Rise” and the “Run”.

Take the Height (Rise) of the ramp and divide it by the Length (Run) to calculate the grade. For example, a ramp with a height of 5 ft. and a length of 20 ft. has a grade of 25%: 5 ft. Rise / 20 ft. Run = 0.25 x 100 = 25% grade.

2. Order Pickers and Ramps

Manufacturers prohibit the operation of order pickers on ramps and slopes.  Some may even prohibit travel.  To avoid the risk of injury, always read and follow the instructions that the manufacturer provides in the OMM.  If the OMM does not cover the operation and travel of the order picker on a ramp contact your local dealer for more information.

3. Ascend and Descend Grades Slowly

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation (29 CFR 1910.178) for operating forklifts on grades, maintaining slow speed can minimize the risk of accident or injury. Follow this practice whether the forklift is carrying a load on the forks or not.  Additional guidance on operating lift trucks on grades can also be found in the ANSI/ ITSDF B56.1 standard which is freely available on the ITSDF website.

4. Driving Direction on Grades

New forklift operators are sometimes curious and ask, “Which direction should the load face when traveling up a ramp?” The answer is, you should always drive a loaded forklift with the forks and load pointed upgrade. This will help prevent the load from sliding off the forks.  Never turn on a ramp or grade.

Also, regardless of direction you should always travel with an unloaded forklift with the forks pointed downgrade.  This will help improve braking and traction while descending or ascending the ramp.

5. Do Not Make Sudden Directional Changes

Accidents can happen if you make sudden on-the-go directional changes or attempt to turn a forklift on a grade or ramp. This can happen whether the forklift is empty or carrying a load. Sudden directional changes can create an imbalance in the forklift, which can result in a forklift tip-over.
To prevent tip-overs, forklift operators should be familiar with their surroundings, avoid sudden directional changes and turning on a ramp, and have a planned route to their destination - and remember rule #1, travel slowly.

6. Remember the Basics

While special instructions and guidelines exist for working on ramps and slopes, all forklift operators should take care to apply the information, knowledge and experience they acquired during training to their work.

Our forklift safety training and certification program can help improve operator efficiency. Find your local forklift dealer to schedule a training session for your business.

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