Forklift Operator Training & Safety Tips

by Scott McLeod

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Forklift operator training, to maximize forklift safety in the workplace, is very important because it exposes forklift operators to some of the potential risks and unsafe situations they could be faced with as they go about their normal day to day activities.

However, with many operators, managers, supervisors and owners of forklift trucks, there is a false sense of security that comes with successfully completing a lift truck operator training program, and if left unaddressed, may lead to a serious injury or worse, a fatality.

For example, let’s say that a particular operator has been trained to read a capacity data plate and when operating a forklift, he or she operates the forklift within the constraints listed on the plate.

Everything should be fine, right? Not necessarily.
forklift training
It is very possible that the capacity data plate is incorrect as so many are. There are thousands of forklifts operating in the workplace that are more than 10 years old. During their life, these lift trucks may have been modified in various ways resulting in a change to their performance characteristics. Often, the capacity data plate wasn’t changed to reflect the new capacity rating of the truck because the person making the modification either didn’t bother or wasn’t aware that the change would have any impact on the lift truck’s lifting capacity. When this happens, the operator is left with a false sense of security believing that the forklift will handle a certain weight when in fact it will only safely handle something less. A very short list of some examples will include changing tires, forks, attachments, counterweights and so on.

In addition, lift truck capacity ratings are generally calculated on the basis that the forklift is operating on flat ground with the mast perfectly vertical. Often, this is not the case in real life and so every lift truck manufacturer builds in an added safety factor that they use to rate their lift truck for capacity. The problem is that this safety factor is decided separately by each and every manufacturer based on what they feel is appropriate given their own design philosophy and past experience. It’s not easy for them to decide what this should be because although each manufacturer would like to make sure everyone purchasing their products remains safe, they also have to deal with market pressures that demand a lower price for their products. Steel costs money and the rising price of steel in past years has put added pressure on every manufacturer to find creative ways of using less steel.

There’s more to it than that but in general terms, that’s how it works.

For example, it’s well known in the industry that a 5,000 lb. gross capacity forklift built today will likely carry less weight than a 5,000 lb. gross capacity lift truck that was manufactured 20 years ago even though their capacity plates are stamped with exactly the same capacity rating. Let’s say that a lift truck operator at company “x” is required to drive both of these forklifts during his normal work day. It would be very confusing to any operator to not only sort out the placement of the different controls between the two lift trucks, but it would also be very difficult for him to get used to the different driving characteristics of both units because each forklift has a very different tipping point even though each forklift has exactly the same gross and possibly net carrying capacity ratings.

Confusing? You’re not alone.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the issues that plague the forklift industry relating to forklift safety. Although part of the solution is to continue training operators by exposing them to all of these and many other issues, a missed opportunity lies with the manufacturers. For example, every lift truck should be equipped with a forklift scale that accurately tells the operator the weight of the load. As it stands today, this feature is an option on some lift trucks but it should be standard equipment and offered by every forklift manufacturer. As well, every lift truck should have a design feature that won’t allow the forklift to pick up the load if it’s too heavy or at an unsafe extended load center. In addition, every forklift should be designed to limit the height that a lift truck can lift with a particular load depending on the weight and size of the load and the forklift’s capability. Generally, the higher you lift, the less capacity the forklift has. Separately, if the forklift is being driven too fast, it should automatically over-ride the operator and slow the truck down.

You get the picture. These are just a few examples and there are many more.

Bottom line, it’s our belief that the lift truck should play a greater role in the protection of each and every operator and if this was the case, there would be less injuries and less fatalities in the workplace today.

But let’s not forget about the operator who will drive irresponsibly regardless of how safely engineered the lift truck might be. Let’s also not forget about the influence alcohol or drugs might have on an operator’s judgement. Controlling these issues lie with the company’s managers and supervisors and the approach must work within the limits of the law, which is different in every Province and State within North America. Having said that, there are ways to minimize the risk and related liability for each and every company operating forklifts today.

For more information on this topic and other issues pertaining to forklift fleet management, contact Scott McLeod, President of Fleetman Consulting Inc. by calling (604)614-3530.

Posted in: Forklift Safety