When we consider the risks associated with forklift operations, our minds often gravitate towards potential collisions with workers and pedestrians. However, there’s another very real and often overlooked hazard – forklift overturns. Surprisingly, nearly a fifth of all workplace transport accidents involve vehicle overturning, with a quarter of all accidents in similar environments being related to forklifts.
Given the considerable size, weight, and operational limitations of forklift trucks, hazards are inherent in every aspect of their operation. Overturning, in particular, poses a grave danger due to the potential harm it can inflict on the operator, personnel, stock, and equipment. Forklifts can overturn in various directions – backwards, sideways, and forward. Numerous factors contribute to such incidents, including overloading, improper load distribution, spillages, uneven surfaces, and operator misjudgment.
However, there are proven methods that warehouse managers can employ to mitigate the risks of forklift overturns and ensure the safety of their employees and products.
Forklift operators should possess a valid licence issued by an approved awarding body. While most companies typically have qualified personnel, situations may arise where a shortage of trained operators necessitates redistributing workloads. It’s crucial not to compromise safety by assigning unqualified individuals to operate forklifts. Regular refresher training is also essential to maintain operators’ knowledge and skills.
All warehouse staff should be familiar with forklift functions, routes, and their purpose within the workspace. Proper training enables them to understand how to keep themselves safe, even in extreme incidents such as overturning. Specifically, those involved in manually loading forklifts should be able to assess load weight in relation to capacity, purpose, and route of the vehicle. Training should also cover the use of equipment and best practices for both manual and machine-assisted loading.
ROPS typically consist of a rollcage (or rollbar) and seat restraints. This system doesn’t prevent the vehicle from overturning but can minimize injury to the operator. However, for ROPS to be effective, operators must also wear seatbelts. Awareness of when to wear seatbelts can be emphasized through markings and signboards. Routine inspections of ROPS and seatbelts are essential to ensure they are in good condition and free of defects. Inspection of the ROPS can be incorporated into the daily defect check, which must be conducted on all forklift trucks before each use. If the ROPS is defective, the vehicle should not be used for any work involving the risk of overturning. Best practice dictates refraining from using the vehicle until the ROPS is repaired.
Most overturning incidents occur due to overloading the forks. Under time constraints or pressure, drivers may attempt to carry more than the forks can handle. This can result in the vehicle tipping forward during movement or when depositing the load at its destination. A related issue is disproportionate loading – even if the forks are carrying less than the maximum capacity, if one fork carries significantly more weight than the other or if the load is heavier at one end than the other, the risk remains the same as with overloading. Immediate bodily harm and load damage are likely outcomes.
Forklift operators should have precise knowledge of the routes they will traverse and the areas for picking up and depositing loads. These routes and zones should be clearly marked on the warehouse floor and reinforced with signage. When drivers must guess the designated routes and areas, the likelihood of misjudgment increases, elevating the risk of disproportionate loading or navigating uneven or unsuitable surfaces, thereby increasing the risk of overturning.
A common time-saving practice is for drivers to move off after picking up a load from the top shelf without retracting the forks. This significantly increases the risk of the vehicle overturning forward during its journey. Given the elevated position of the forks, the risk to the product and ground personnel is doubled. Drivers should be aware of the need to properly retract the arms before moving off, a practice that can be guaranteed only through proper policy and comprehensive, regular training.
By implementing these proactive measures, warehouse managers can significantly reduce the risk of forklift overturns, ensuring the safety of their employees, products, and equipment. Safety should always be a top priority in any workplace where forklifts are used.