The Tipping Point

Don’t bring me down

There’s a scene in the 2006 Pixar movie Cars in which Lightning McQueen and his towtruck friend Mater spend a reckless evening tractor tipping. It’s played for laughs, but we can laugh at it because it’s a cartoon about talking cars. You don’t actually want to find yourself in a tipover situation when you’re operating heavy machinery.

Tipovers are dangerous and preventable. But thanks to gravity—the force that pulls objects toward each other—they’re all too common.

Gravity is kind of sneaky. It pretends to be your biggest supporter, but it really just wants to bring you down. It’s the reason we’re able to stand on the ground without floating off into space … but it’s also the reason we hit the ground instead of floating up into the air when we trip and fall.

The center of everything

Every object has a center of gravity, which is the point at which its combined mass is concentrated. For a large, complex object like a forklift, the center of gravity is the point at which all of its parts balance one another.

Forklift suspension systems are built around three points: the two front drive wheels, and the turning center (pivot pin) of the back wheels. The forklift’s own center of gravity sits within this triangle—also known as the stability triangle. The points of the stability triangle also extend upwards to one point at the top of the mast, creating a pyramid shape.

When a load is lifted onto the forks, their centers of gravity are combined, and the overall center of gravity changes. The higher the load is lifted, the less stable the forklift becomes. The combined center of gravity (load + forklift) must stay within the pyramid, or the forklift will tip over. This is why it’s important to be aware of your forklift’s weight limit.

Uneven ground surfaces and ramps can also affect your vehicle’s stability, and in turn its center of gravity.

Remembering these key points while operating your forklift can help mitigate the risk of a tipover:

  • Remember that an unloaded forklift is less stable than a properly loaded one.
  • Always read and understand the load chart.
  • Wear your seatbelt and keep all limbs inside.
  • Have a good idea of your load’s center of gravity.
  • Always make sure the load is sitting all the way against the backrest.
  • Do not raise, lower, or carry a load with the forks tilted forward.
  • Do not tilt the mast too far back when raised.
  • Never make turns with the load elevated.
  • When traveling, always keep the load low to the ground.
  • Never make a turn on an inclined surface.
  • Do not start, stop, or change speeds too quickly.
  • Never travel at a speed greater than normal walk­ing speed.
  • Always use caution when turning.


If you find yourself needing to grip the steering wheel tightly on a turn, you are going too fast and are at risk of tipping.

If your truck does start to tip, DO NOT TRY TO JUMP OUT. Grip the steering wheel, brace your feet on the floor, and ride out the tipover inside the operator compartment.

Remember, tipovers are relatively uncommon compared to other workplace injuries. However, due to the size and weight of the equipment and loads, they can be catastrophic, responsible for damage to equipment and goods, worker injuries, and even death. Taking the steps to prevent tipovers can help prevent such accidents.

Taking the First Step:

If you are interested in taking our online forklift operator training course, or need a refresher course before recertifying, you can learn more about it below. It provides the same quality training as our classroom course, but is conveniently available online! It’s affordable, easy-to-use, mobile-friendly, and satisfies the OSHA “classroom” training requirement.

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