Two of the most common accidents with forklifts are the forklift tipping over, or the load falling off the pallet. Both types of accidents have caused death and injury, and also cause costly damage to the equipment or to the load itself. As forklifts are inherently unstable, it’s important that operators have forklift training and that an audit is done of the loads, racking (or other storage), and methods by which the loads are moved.
Follow the 12 tips below, and it will reduce the risk significantly of either type of incident.
Don’t overload the forklift
The load capacity is stated on the load plate. It will usually give a specified maximum weight at a maximum height with a maximum load centre. For example, 5000kg, 4500mm @ 500mm. This means the forklift’s maximum capacity is 5 tonnes lifted to 4.5m as long as the centre of gravity of the load is not more than 0.5m from the backrest, but only while the forklift is static (i.e. not moving).
If you have added attachments to the forklift and they are not included on the load plate, a revised maximum capacity should be displayed on the attachment.
The higher the load is, the more leverage it places on the mast.
Adjust your driving to the type of load you are carrying
Most loads are fairly inert; they don’t want to move. However, some loads are very ‘live’. These are loads with liquid, loads that can swing (i.e. hanging loads) or loads that are loose in a container that can roll around.
These live loads can exert forces on the mast that are less predictable. Loads that can slosh or roll carry kinetic energy which can affect the forklift’s stability.
Drive to the weather conditions
Driving a forklift outside introduces more forces to the load. Outside surfaces tend to be more irregular, meaning that the forklift will lurch or dip as the wheels enter a depression; remember that forklifts have no suspension.
Wind forces can push on a load, increasing its leverage on the mast.
Bright sun, fog or rain can reduce visibility and change the operator’s perception of distance and speed.
Take care when loading
Spread the load across the forks; never place all the load on one fork as it can damage the mast and create instability. Loads should not be loose on the forks, and they should be up against the backrest.
Keep the load low when moving
When moving the forklift, forces are exerted on it and the load when accelerating, braking, cornering and driving over bumps. The higher the load, the more those forces are amplified through the load’s leverage on the mast. Best practice is to travel with the forks around 150mm off the ground.
Moderate your speed when cornering
When you turn left, your forklift and its load want to continue moving in a straight line and therefore exert forces to the right of the forklift. The slower you corner, the less force is generated. Use smooth steering inputs; jerky steering creates more lateral force.
Change speed slowly
Use smooth acceleration and deceleration (braking). Again, these create forces on the forklift. Heavy braking can cause the load to slide off the forks, or topple over, or it can cause the forklift to topple forwards.
Wear a seatbelt and PPE
The seatbelt will help stop you coming out of the forklift if you do tip over. Of course, you also need to hold onto the steering wheel and brace with your feet if this happens; never put your hand down or your feet out of the rollover protective structure as they could be crushed by the forklift.
Good quality steel-capped boots with grippy soles will help protect your feet, too.
Watch for obstacles above and to the side
Know the heights of roller doors, pipes, awnings, etc. Catching the mast on these can tip the forklift over, as well as do a lot of damage.
When carrying wide loads, understand the clearance through doors and into aisles.
Use caution when driving on slopes
You will take longer to brake to a stop on a slope, and you should avoid turning on a slope because it can tip the centre of gravity outside the stability triangle.
It’s best practice to reverse down a slope when carrying a load.
Never stack or destack a load on a slope.
Understand the surface conditions
Warehouse floors are smooth, but can be slippery if wet (e.g. in a cool store). As mentioned above, outside surfaces can be undulating, making it more likely that a load will be bounced off the forks, or that the forklift will become unstable.
Gutters and kerbs need to be negotiated carefully, especially when carrying a wide load.
Don’t drive on surfaces that the forklift isn’t made for.
Check that the wheels are in good condition
Chunks out of the tyre, or a flat tyre can cause a rollover, or can introduce forces to the load that make it unstable. Replace or repair faulty tyres.