Safety is a non-negotiable when it comes to heavy machinery. Forklifts, pivotal in various industries such as warehousing, construction, and shipping, can be dangerous if not operated correctly. As such, here is: How to operate a forklift safely.
Note: Be sure to cross reference information presented here with complinace or training personnel to ensure you have not omitted any steps.
Requirements to Operate a Forklift Safely
Forklift operation isn’t just about hopping onto the machine and driving. It’s bound by legal and safety guidelines.
- Age Restrictions: The legal age to operate a forklift in the U.S. is 18 years. This ensures the operator possesses the maturity and judgment essential for safe operation.
- Training and Certification: Federal law mandates formal training and an evaluation before one can legally operate a forklift. This training often encompasses classroom instruction, hands-on training, and an evaluation.
- Refresher Training: It’s not a one-time deal. Operators must renew their certifications every three years. Immediate retraining is also necessary if they’re involved in an accident, operate the machine unsafely, or introduce a different type of forklift.
The Basics of Forklift Operation
Before you even turn the ignition, there’s groundwork to lay.
- Pre-Operation Inspection: Begin every shift with an equipment inspection. Check for leaks, damages, or any malfunctioning parts. Ensure the tires are well-inflated, and safety features like horns or lights are operational.
- Boarding the Forklift: Approach it from the side, leveraging the handholds and steps. This reduces the risk of slips and falls.
- Adjustments Before Starting: After boarding, adjust the seat, mirrors, and other controls. Proper alignment ensures you have clear visibility and can react swiftly.
- Starting the Machine: Always start the engine with the forklift in neutral and the parking brake engaged.
Mastering Lift Techniques
The essence of forklift operation is in the lift.
- Load Assessment: Before lifting, evaluate the load. Check its stability, weight distribution, and secure it if necessary.
- Approaching the Load: Always approach head-on. Angle or sideways approaches can lead to instability.
- Fork Positioning: Your forks should be at the correct height and spread for the load’s size.
- Lifting and Transporting: Lift the load cautiously, ensuring it’s stable. Always move with the load as low as feasible to maintain a low center of gravity.
- Tilting: Tilt the mast backward slightly once the load is lifted. This action stabilizes the load during transportation.
Basic Forklift Controls
Like any machine, mastering a forklift’s controls is paramount.
- Pedals: Just like cars, forklifts have accelerator and brake pedals. However, some models might have an inching pedal which allows precise control.
- Steering: Forklift steering feels different from regular vehicles, especially in rear-wheel steering models. Practice in a controlled environment before handling real tasks.
- Mast Controls: Know how to operate the mast – lifting, lowering, tilting forwards, and backward.
- Gearshift: If your forklift isn’t automatic, familiarize yourself with its gear transitions.
- Safety Features: Horns, lights, and backup alarms are crucial. They communicate your intentions to others around.
Tips for Safe Forklift Operation
- Safety Gear: Always adorn a hard hat, safety shoes, and high-visibility clothing.
- Weight Limits: Never exceed the forklift’s capacity. Overloading can cause tip-overs.
- Smooth Operations: Avoid sudden stops, starts, or turns.
- Clear Vision: If a load blocks your sight, drive in reverse. Alternatively, use a spotter to guide you.
- Honking: Make it a habit to honk at intersections, blind spots, or when reversing.
- Passengers: Forklifts aren’t joyrides. Unless there’s a designated seat, no passengers should be on board.
- Incline Driving: Always ascend or descend slopes slowly and straight. Never drive diagonally on a slope.
Understanding Forklift Stability
- Center of Gravity: When lifting, the forklift’s center of gravity shifts. This dynamic nature can influence stability.
- The Stability Triangle: Forklifts have a three-point suspension system, the “stability triangle.” The forklift remains stable as long as its center of gravity stays within this triangle.
Maintenance and Regular Checks
- Daily Checks: Before each shift, ensure a thorough check of brakes, steering, controls, and safety devices.
- Scheduled Maintenance: Adhere to the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule. This routine ensures longevity and safety.
- Immediate Repairs: Never operate a forklift in need of repairs. It’s not just unsafe but can escalate repair costs if unchecked.