A forklift, despite being fairly small in size, uses a counterweight system to lift thousands of pounds, often high in the air. The technology may be old, but it helps worksites on a daily basis. In workplaces where employees need to move a lot of heavy materials, forklifts play an integral role in keeping the facility safe. Forklifts do most of the work, which means employees can avoid injuries related to heavy lifting.
Even though forklifts help keep employees safe, they do pose a number of hazards if used incorrectly. Forklifts can tip if turned too quickly or drop the items they’re carrying if loaded improperly. Collisions with other vehicles or pedestrians can also occur. Machine operators should keep the following steps and tips in mind to ensure proper forklift safety.
1. Inspect the Forklift Before Use
Inspecting the truck before every use may seem excessive, but doing so can prevent many accidents, particularly those caused by equipment malfunction. The forklift might have run over a piece of metal during its last use, leading to a tire that’s no longer fully inflated. One of the forks might have become bent because of misuse, which could lead to a load falling. By checking for problems each time a forklift is used, these sorts of issues can be avoided.
When doing a visual check, be sure to look at the following parts of the vehicle:
- • Tires
• Fluids (like engine oil, hydraulic oil, gas)
• Overhead Guard
Make sure nothing is leaking or looks out of place. Even small details like a burned out light can compromise safety, so fix problems before using the forklift.
2. Understand Your Load
A forklift is intended to move heavy loads, but you need to know how much weight your truck can carry (this is called the “maximum load rating”). Exceeding this amount can have disastrous consequences, as the forklift might tip over or spill the load.
When arranging the load, be sure to do so in a way that is stable and secure. Square items can be stacked in a cube, but need to be secured with strapping. Another common way of stacking materials is in brick format, which means each level of the stack is turned 90 degrees. Be careful with irregularly shaped items like bags, which should be layered with plywood or other strong, flat materials to keep the load stable.
Before moving that load, you also need to make sure you understand best practices for positioning it. Generally, you’ll want the load to be as low as possible, especially when moving. Additionally, never move the load up or down while the truck is moving – only move it vertically when the vehicle is stopped. Also consider where to position the load if there’s an incline: the load always needs to be kept on the uphill side of the vehicle to prevent tipping. This may mean driving the vehicle backwards in certain circumstances.
3. Understand How Driving a Forklift is Not Like Driving a Car
Because a forklift looks like a truck, you may assume it drives like a truck, but this isn’t the case. Drivers must understand a couple key differences to keep everyone in the facility safe. First, the wheels that steer the vehicle are in the back, not the front. This means drivers need to leave room at the back of the truck to swing around and make turns. Second, forklifts don’t respond as quickly as cars do, so stopping abruptly or swerving can cause a driver to lose control of the truck. Adjusting to these differences between a car and a forklift can take some time, so employees should always drive with caution.
4. Do Follow Some Commonsense Driving Rules
While driving a forklift is different from driving a car, drivers should follow many basic rules of the road, even when inside a facility. Drivers should always use safe speeds and obey speed limit signs. If there’s a lot of pedestrian traffic on a particular day, driving even slower might be necessary. Speaking of pedestrians, drivers should give them the right of way and should be very cautious around blind spots. Whenever a forklift approaches an intersection—with pedestrian traffic or other vehicles—the driver should sound the truck’s horn to alert others of its presence.
Some other common driving rules that apply to forklifts involve where to drive on the “road.” Forklifts should drive in their lane or keep right (unless something blocks that path). Drivers should also stay alert to “road” conditions. Is the pathway wet and slippery? Bumpy? Uneven? These things can cause the forklift to lose balance, so always proceed with caution if the roadway appears unstable. Additionally, as you would keep multiple vehicle lengths between your car and the car in front of you while driving on the highway, follow the same principle with forklifts. Maintain three forklift distances between your forklift and another.
5. Don’t Be Distracted
This rule applies to driving a car as well, but because of its importance it earned its own section here. Distracted driving while carrying thousands of pounds of materials is dangerous and it compromises the safety of everyone in the forklift’s vicinity. Using a cell phone to send a text or changing the song on an iPod can lead to costly mistakes. Drivers may glance away from the pathway in front of them and not notice pedestrians or get too close to shelves or machinery. Furthermore, pedestrians are increasingly distracted by technology, too, so drivers can’t rely on them to see the forklift and get out of the way.
Regardless of the situation, it’s important for drivers to keep their eyes on the road since forklifts have blind spots to begin with. There’s no reason to add more hazards to the equation.
6. Park the Forklift Properly
Just like a car, a forklift shouldn’t be left unattended while running. If the operator is more than 25 feet away or can’t see the vehicle, it needs to be turned off.
Procedures for parking a forklift are simple, but should be followed. The driver should lower the forks to the floor and make sure they are out of walkways and aisles. Then he or she should turn off the truck and engage the parking brake. Simple steps, but they can help prevent needless accidents.
Know What’s Best for Your Facility
Individual forklifts may have unique operating instructions, so make sure drivers at your facility understand any special procedures. Many kinds of forklifts exist, so rules will not always be the same. Generally speaking, though, keeping the above steps in mind should help keep drivers and other workers safer around forklifts.
Safety managers can also take additional steps to make sure forklift pathways are clearly marked with safety signs and that employees receive proper training on all machinery. Using floor markers to alert drivers to areas of the floor that could damage the forklift are also helpful. For more information about forklift safety, take a look at this free guide.
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