Forklifts: The Nature of the Beast

Know the limitations and functionality of your forklifts to make your operation safer

Forklift loading pallet rack

Powered industrial trucks present special hazards not normally encountered outside the production facility, warehouse or distribution center. The functions these types of equipment perform are characteristically hazardous activities, let alone the fact that the equipment itself has inherent attributes that make it hazardous to operate. Some of those attributes are:

  • A tendency to become unstable
  • Carries loads high off the ground
  • Mode of steering – steered with rear wheels, powered with front
  • Shift in center of gravity as loads are moved up, down, forward, and backward, ultimately changing overall vehicle stability
  • Longitudinal stability is significantly decreased when load is high or out from vehicle

Add to those qualities the typical workplace conditions encountered, and you begin to see how the hazard level increases. On any given day the operator of a powered industrial truck will encounter:

  • Rough, uneven, or sloped travel surfaces
  • Unusual or loosely packed loads
  • Hazardous environmental conditions
  • Narrow aisles
  • Blind spots
  • Pedestrian traffic working close to his travel path

Any of these conditions can put both operators and fellow workers at risk of injury or death.

Consider the danger of an unstable load as an industrial truck passes by a work zone and encounters a dip in the pavement. Suddenly that load has become a huge boulder tumbling across the work zone, crushing anything in its path. Or, how about those blind spots at intersections? Without correct training (or an AisleCop warehouse safety gate system) and procedures for dealing with these conditions, all workers are endangered as they travel in the same traffic paths with powered industrial trucks. How can you know for sure that corner is safe to go around?

Safety systems are not the end-all

It's no wonder so many safety measures have been put into place at warehouses, distribution centers and other locations where these powered beasts operate. Guard rail to separate work zones from travel paths. Wide angle mirrors to allow workers to view oncoming traffic around blind spots. Even motion detection systems that open and close safety gates at pedestrian crosswalks or that flash bright lights when traffic is detected. But these safety features can do only so much. True safety begins with well-trained operators who understand the danger of unsafe work practices like:

  • Excessive speed
  • Poor loading
  • Carrying unauthorized passengers

Additionally, poor maintenance practices put all workers at risk. When routine maintenance is not conducted, the equipment may have increased carbon monoxide exhaust, a loss of brakes or a hydraulic line rupture, making the vehicle more dangerous to operate. When braking ability or steering control is lost, this powered beast has become a wild, untamed animal driving workers in all directions to escape the dangers released.

That's why it's so important to know and understand the nature of the beast. Powered industrial trucks, when tame and docile, can perform tremendous feats that allow us to enjoy great comfort and ease in our lives. But when we forget about the hazards of unsafe operation, we put ourselves and co-workers in peril. Never use powered industrial trucks to lift people up so they can reach something up high. Don't allow riding on the lift forks, no matter how innocent the reason and short the trip will be, and avoid driving these pieces of equipment with an obstructed view. If you can't see well in the direction you're heading, it might be better to trail the load behind you. Remember, hazard is in the very nature of the beast. From the way it operates to the functions it performs and the workers around it - keep yourself safe, and keep that beast tame.