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Top 10 Forklift Safety Tips for the Material Handling Industry

Almost every warehouse or materials handling facility would use a forklift. They hold a very important place and serve a very vital purpose in everyday operations. They are by far one the most important machines for handling of goods and a significant investment for the business. They serve to aid in productivity, efficiency and in turn overall profitability. They may not be the most cost effective way to handle goods, but they are the most versatile and are the best option for moving large and heavy loads. They are used mostly for loading freight, along with general warehousing. If used properly, a forklift will typically be both cost effective and time effective which will increase productivity. They are a reliable and versatile investment for most facilities.

But heavy lifting machinery is not always safe in a working environment, and can pose a safety risk if not used or maintained properly. Accidents can happen, such as collisions, tip-overs, dropping of loads etc. and this can lead to injuries, and even death. Each year there are thousands of both minor and major workplace-related injuries and accidents. The good news is that these accidents are usually preventable, and the best way to prevent these is to jump to the root of the problem. It is very important to understand why and how they happen. As a general rule, these risks can be reduced, and removed altogether by implementing safe practices and regulations that are complied to.

Here at Dyno, we care about creating safe, healthy and happy workplaces! So here are our top 10 forklift safety tips, and some best practices that you can follow to ensure a safe working environment and a more seamless flow in your business.

1. Forklift operator licensing and qualification requirements

Only a properly trained and licensed person is qualified to operate a forklift or a lift truck. A forklift is a powerful piece of machinery, and operating it in the workplace is a very delicate job. A mistake can cause a lot of damage to the machine, facility, or products, or (at the worst) can injure someone.

You need to understand the requirements for licensing for you and your team, and where an (F) endorsement is needed. Most businesses don’t realise that operators that unload and load vehicles in their own yard may need an (F) endorsement, as it is regarded as part of the public roads. However, this is unless it has a gate that is closed while loading and unloading. Check the requirements for a F endorsement to ensure your team is abiding to regulations. Have a look at all the registered agents and course providers in NZ, if you find you need to update your licensing.

Operating a forklift is a job with a high level of responsibility, and the operators must follow certain sets of forklift safety guidelines for the safety of themselves and other workplace employees. It is good practice to sit down with your team and draw up your own specific guidelines, customised to your warehouse.

Keeping other employees in mind, unqualified operators are a strict no-go when it comes to handling a forklift. No formal training can lead to disastrous results owing to injuries and major accidents. Unlicensed operators can result in large fines both for the operator and the employer, so it is not worth the risk. Thus only certified and trained operators should be allowed to handle a forklift and related machines. They should work according to their training, and follow basic forklift safety rules.

Warehouse worker taking package in the shelf in a large warehouse in a large warehouse

2. On site forklift training

The importance of training in the forklift safety scenario is massive. Training is mandatory to avoid unnecessary accidents, and so your team knows what to do if an accident does unfortunately occur. Basic personalised company operator training can vastly improve operator competence and confidence, and overall productivity.

The facility must ensure that before an employee takes control of a forklift, he or she has received the required training that meets WorkSafe requirements. Seatbelts must be worn at all times when operating a forklift.

Training programs can help a new operator to merge into your teams safety culture and learn the systems that are used at your facility, as well as help refresh their existing training. It is also a good idea to do a refresher training course with existing operators every 6 months or so. This time can also be used to re-plan and make sure the training is up to date, and identify any potential safety issues around the workplace. This all leads to increased forklift operator safety, along with the overall well-being of everybody present in your workplace. 

 

A typical safety forklift training program may include:

  • Basic rules related to safe and sound operation.
  • Knowledge of the hazards a forklift and industrial trucks can create.
  • The types of forklifts and trucks used on site and how to use and drive them properly.
  • Formal training consisting of videos, PowerPoints, demonstrations, running through forklift safety checklists and (most importantly) hands-on experience.
  • Forklift safety checklist templates - these need to be used, and it is good to do it at the start of every shift.
  • Setting goals or targets for the team to strive towards.

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3. PPE requirements for forklift operators

The appropriate forklift PPE could include:

  • Safety shoes
  • Sturdy clothing
  • High-visibility jackets
  • Hard hat
  • Safety glasses and ear protection

This safety attire must be fitted properly as per the requirement of the particular operator and manufacturer, as any loose clothing might get caught in the machine and cause accidents. For electric forklifts, the correct PPE should be worn when disconnecting the charger and maintaining the batteries. The acid from the batteries can be dangerous, and it is good practice to dispose of the gloves often so no one comes into contact with the acid on them.

When charging or maintaining forklift batteries, the following PPE must be worn:

  • Neoprene gloves
  • Apron
  • Safety goggles and a face shield.

It is good practice to have a no smoking sign in the area too. An acid spill kit is also a good thing to have around.

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4. Proper examination of the equipment before operating

To maintain forklift safety, operators must go through a routine check of the machine before driving. This is necessary! It is easy to overlook this important part, as it may even seem a waste of time. However, faults may be found which will save time and money in the future and can prevent potential accidents from happening. It also reduces downtime due to less parts failing.

If the operator finds any significant damage or fault to the machine, he/she must notify management. If that piece of equipment is severely damaged/faulty, the forklift must not be operated before repairs have been made.

 

5. Choosing the right forklift for the job

The selection of the right machines is very important in forklift safety. Before investing in a new forklift, it is recommended to do research to find the best model for your circumstances, how it will be used, and to ensure it is safe (look for reviews and reputable brands). You'll need a forklift that can easily meet the demands of the facility, and can manage the required loads, space and conditions that are crucial to the business.

The 4 biggest considerations when choosing a forklift are:

  • Lifting height and load carrying capability. You need to be able to reach to the top of your pallet racking, and it must be able to carry the weight.
  • Size of the forklift. This is important as you don't want a forklift that can't fit down aisles in a warehouse etc.
  • Diesel vs gas vs electric.
    • Electric is best for inside, as it means there are less fumes, however they need time to be recharged.
    • A diesel forklift will cost less initially, however the maintenance cost is higher than electric, but lower than a Gas powered. They are best suited for outside.
    • Gas or LPG trucks are cheapest to buy new, but have higher running and maintenance costs. To see a good list of the advantages and disadvantages of each, click here.
  • 3 wheel vs 4 wheel. A 3 wheel forklift can turn in its own length, but isn’t as stable as a 4 wheel forklift.

There are a vast amount of companies offering a wide range of forklifts and lifts trucks which are made for certain conditions and loads. Browse and choose the one that suits your requirements the best.

 

6. Operate within the forklift speed limit

Operating the machine in the workplace where many others are working, is a very tricky task. To ensure overall forklift driving safety, a maximum speed should be set. A sensible speed for a forklift to be driven inside is 10km/h, and the maximum speed driven where pedestrians are present is 5km/h. However the operator should be sensitive to what is around them and adjust their speed to suit. When making turns or changing directions, the operator should do it carefully, and slow down before the turn. Otherwise, the forklift could run into someone they haven’t seen, could tip their load off, or could roll the forklift.

There are many factors that influence the choice of the correct speed limit for a forklift to operate safely. One of these could be the visibility of the area. It is important to slow down if you have low visibility, and be prepared to stop. Pallet racking often limits visibility, so it is important to slow down in view of having a safe warehouse. The state of the surface you are driving on is also important. If it is slippery, more distance will be required to stop the vehicle. Any spills should be cleaned up in view of a safe work environment. This is also the same with a dirty floor, as dust and debris can be very slippery.

Obstacles are important to note as well. Bumps, hollows, curves and ramps mean you will need to slow down. When driving on ramps, it is especially important to use best practices. The load should be pointing uphill at all times, sudden turning movements must be avoided, and the speed should be decreased. Toyota has a few short tips on safe forklift use on ramps and inclines.

Generally accepted forklift speed limits are:

  • 20km/h Outside
  • 10km/h Inside
  • 5km/h around people

*The above speeds are only a guide, and the operator will need to react and slow down for anything that could be a potential hazard.

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7. Remove any blind spots

An important thing to remember when carrying a load with a forklift, is that the operator needs to see where they are going. It is important to carry the load in such a way that it does not block vision while in operation.

Driving in reverse is a good way to see where you are going when you have a bigger load, however this will take practice to do well. Is it also important to watch for the swing of your forks. When driving up a ramp however, never go in reverse. In these circumstances, or others where the view is blocked from the driving seat, one must use a helper to assist and direct where to go. The operator must keep his body inside of the forklift at all times, so one or two people helping direct the forklift is very important. These people must keep a safe distance to ensure they don’t put themselves at risk.

 

8. Evenly distribute the load on the forks

Never lift a load unless both of the forks are under the load properly and evenly. One must never lift with one fork otherwise the load can tip over, leading to damage to the product and possibly to the forklift.

Never use the tip of the fork to lift a heavy load, and it is not at all advisable to push a load along the ground.

 

9. Do not overload the forklift

The operator must know the carrying capacity of the forklift, and never exceed it to ensure safe operation of the forklift. An overload may cause the forklift to tip forwards, with undesirable consequences. Along with damaging the forklift, the operator could be terribly injured. For this reason a seatbelt must be worn at all times.

Too much load can easily cause the forklift to tilt over and cause massive damage. It is very dangerous, so maintain the loads according to the carrying capacity and ensure operators are aware of the capacity to ensure forklift safety.

 

10. Assess the operating environment for forklift safety

While driving the forklift, the operator should assess and then inspect the whole route for any hazards or obstacles that may come up. If there is any loose debris or any material on the floor that can cause trouble, it should be cleaned up to keep a safe passage for the forklift. If any of the obstacles can’t be moved or tidied up, plan another route.

The operator should also take care to check the overhead clearance, to ensure the load or the top of the forklift does not foul with the ceiling while driving. Loading ramps should be inspected beforehand to ensure they can handle the total weight of the forklift.

Operators should take care that other obstacles like ramps, tracks, racks, equipment, doors, and elevators are appropriately navigated. Operators must also make a note beforehand of all the holes, wet areas, bumps, sharp turns etc. so that they can be avoided or negotiated safely. If possible, plan another route altogether, or repair the hazards.

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So, to cap off

A forklift is a very delicate piece of machinery, and it must not be handled by any employee that is not qualified and licensed. The importance of forklift safety is becoming more pronounced as our health and safety laws are getting tighter.

The above tips can help you make the right decisions in your workplace ensuring safety, increasing productivity and boosting profitability along the way. It will also help to reduce the risk of any accidents that could lead to fines and other consequences.

Give us a shout out if you are interested in reducing the risk in your business, and want to speak to one of our specialists.

Forklift Maintenance Checklist