Forklifts are one of the most useful, practical, and yet dangerous tools in the workplace. They allow one person to do work that would otherwise be impossible. A forklift can lift, move, and store thousands of pounds, and at high speed. They are invaluable in modern logistics and warehousing, and the demand for skilled operators will never go away.
However, because forklifts pose a risk for injury on the job, the law requires operators to go through training and meet minimum standards before operating a forklift. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a clearly defined set of rules and regulations (found in CFR 1910.
178 (l)) that one must follow concerning forklift operator training. Any violation of these rules can result in hefty fines and penalties for every infraction, up to and including imprisonment. It is legally and morally a good idea to sign up all relevant employees for counterbalance forklift training, or whatever kind of powered industrial truck you have. So, what skills are taught in a forklift certification class? Let’s explore.
Safe Operation of the Forklift
Forklifts are heavy, lumbering, and potentially dangerous and can turn your day from good to bad in the blink of an eye. Learning how to operate a forklift in a safe, responsible manner is the first and most important thing taught. They are complex machines with a lot of moving parts, and while someone could learn how to use them in a couple of days, it takes a long time to master them. For example, operators must remember while using hand and foot controls to keep their head and eyes up, scanning the path ahead for obstacles. Operating a forklift is a personal ballet of hand, foot, and eye coordination working together to move large loads from point A to B. Further, driving a forklift is like driving a car in that there are rules of the road to follow. This includes watching for pedestrians, and yielding the right of way when necessary. Plus, you have to worry about all of this while trying to keep the load from tipping over or destabilizing the center of gravity on the truck.
Load Handling and Stacking
As part of the training, new operators will learn the proper way to handle and stack loads. To transport heavy loads, it’s important to know how that load will react while in transit. The shape and weight of the load all play a part in its overall stability. A top-heavy load is more at risk for tipping than most others. Sudden stops and sharp turns will keep that top weight moving in one direction while the truck goes another. Moving palletized loads is the easiest form of handling and stacking. But still, keep the heaviest pallet on the bottom and stack up to decrease the chance of crushing the bottom pallets. Additionally, before pulling out from under a pallet, lower the forks slowly to see if the pallet is stable and secure in its new location. Watch to make sure it does not lift on one side and is firmly resting.
Fueling and Battery Changing
Fork trucks need fuel and refueling to keep moving, and operators will learn how to do that. Trucks run on different fuel sources and it is important to know how to refuel them. Electric trucks obviously run on massive batteries that weigh around 2,000 pounds—changing one of these behemoths takes special tools and lifts. It’s not like changing the battery in a car. Likewise, trucks that run on LP gas and diesel have their own refueling needs and way to do it. While fueling trucks, changing batteries, or adding water to batteries, employees should always wear the proper PPE.
A daily inspection of the forklift is part of the OSHA requirements. This is so that broken systems and controls or those wearing down don’t go unnoticed. Operators will learn how to fill out a daily inspection sheet, what the component parts of the truck are, and what kind of problems to look for. Checking the truck every day for wear and tear helps the operator understand what makes the truck work. Knowing how the truck works gives them a better overall understanding of how each function is interrelated to each other. It is not enough to perform the daily inspection, the operators need to know what to do if they find a problem. Operators that attend our classes are trained to take the truck out in need of repair out of circulation, notify their supervisor that repairs need to be made. They are also taught that only trained personnel are to make the repairs. Once the repairs are made, the truck must be inspected again, prior to putting it back in service.
Proper Forklift Maintenance
While forklift maintenance/repair is not specifically covered in our forklift operator training class, it is worth mentioning. It’s been proven that machines will work well if users take care of them. Nothing will last forever—parts will need changing, fluids will need replacing, and fuel will need refilling. Having a skilled individual on staff or contracting with a third party that is responsible for the actual repairs is invaluable. Knowing what parts of the forklift are more prone to break down helps an individual know what signs to look for to know if something becomes broken, or is about to break.
Keeping the lines of communication open with between your service personnel and operators is invaluable. When the operator does a thorough daily inspection, they can easily be the eyes and ears for the individual that makes the repairs. This is especially true for companies that have a large fleet of trucks. When caring for something is treated as a team effort, and not the sole responsibility of one person, it holds all accountable for the performance and condition of the truck. It’s important to note that knowing basic maintenance techniques can help save money in the long run by keeping the truck out of the repair shop and running on the loading dock or warehouse floor.
Lift Truck Stability
The most basic concept of learning forklift operation is the load stability triangle. Counterbalanced forklifts have a three-point suspension system, which consists of two front wheels (or load wheels) and the center of the steer axle. Picture invisible lines linking all three of these points—these connections form the load stability triangle.
If the center of gravity falls within the triangle, a load is safe to carry. However, once the operator adds weight to the forks, the center of gravity shifts closer to the front axle. If the center of gravity meets the front axle, it is at the edge of the stability triangle, traveling with a load in this position increases the likelihood of a tip over and should be avoided. The center of gravity shifts, even more, when the driver lifts a load in the air. The load’s height in the air is what affects how far outside the triangle the center of gravity goes. Operators should travel with loads that are about 4 inches off the ground,. This keeps the center of gravity low and the truck is more stable.