Forklift Driver’s Ed
Forklift Driver’s Ed: Why You Can’t Treat Your Forklift Like Your Car
Even in the most professional and responsible warehouse environments, employees may feel the need to bring some fun to their daily routine. They may use their breaks to play games or read books. They may organize after-hours hangouts with their fellow coworkers. Or, they may decide to use work equipment for recreational activities.
Even if your employees don’t do anything as irresponsible as forklift racing, they may still drive their forklifts the same way they drive their cars. They may take turns too quickly, or accelerate a bit too quickly, just to put some spice in their daily routine. However, you need to make sure your employees understand that they can’t handle a forklift, the same way they handle their cars.
Below, we’ve outlined a few, quick forklift driver’s education lessons, that you can pass on to your employees.
Lesson 1: Speeding
Many forklift operators don’t fully understand their equipment’s limitations, so they’ll drive more quickly than safety allows. They’ll put on a burst of speed so they can finish their tasks faster, or so they can feel a rush of exhilaration. However, forklifts can’t brake or manoeuvre with the same responsiveness as a car. Accidents, injuries, and even deaths result when forklift operators drive too quickly.
For this reason, you need to institute speed limits, and outline the consequences of breaking them. There is no definitive “speed limit”, so don’t waste time trying to set up speed cameras! Speed limit means, “A speed appropriate to the conditions”. Your speed limits should match the environmental conditions in your workplace. These conditions could include factors such as:
- The number and flow of pedestrians. Some parts of your warehouse may see more pedestrians than others, which means your trucks should drive slower there.
- The placement of corners. Forklifts can’t turn as easily as a car, especially when they bear heavy loads. We’ll outline this more below, but keep this factor in mind.
- Areas with poor lighting. You may have sufficient lighting all over your warehouse, but if a particular stack of pallets or goods casts a long, dark shadow, you should slow down.
- The type of load your operators have to move. When operators have to transport particularly heavy loads, high speeds drastically reduce their stopping capability and increase the amount of force they’ll exert if they crash. Its basic physics: force = mass x acceleration. Your forklift already has a considerable mass, which only increases when carrying a load. The more the forklift accelerates, the worse the consequences will be when something goes wrong.
A responsible speed limit is typically the pace a pedestrian travels. You may allow higher speeds in low traffic areas, but you should instruct your drivers to reduce speed to walking pace, whenever people are likely to be around.
As you enforce your new speed limits, post signs to “Slow Down”, or point out hazards around your warehouse. Consider installing speed limiting devices on your equipment. This will force your employees to drive at safer speeds and increase their awareness of possible dangers.
Lesson 2: Braking
In the time it takes an operator to recognize a hazard, apply the brakes and actually stop the truck, a lot can happen. The truck will continue to travel while the operator’s brain understands that a message must be sent to the appropriate limb to apply the brakes. This is known as “Perception Time”. The amount of time it actually takes for the operator to move a hand or foot, to apply the brakes, is called “Reaction Time”. The truck will continue to move until the brakes overcome inertia, and the truck actually slows to a stop. This is known as “Braking Time”. Combined, this is called “Stopping Time” which can be converted into a measurable “Stopping Distance”. Again, lift trucks don’t respond the same way cars do, and they operate in tighter spaces. They don’t have the luxury of unlimited space in which to stop. In fact, even if your forklift only travels at 6 km/h, it can take 3 m to come to a full stop. The faster they travel, and the heavier the load they carry, the stopping distance will increase dramatically.
Operators can’t safely slam on the brakes either. If they do, they could damage or drop the load, or tip the entire forklift over. It could tip over even if it doesn’t have a load on it. Operators should brake smoothly and gradually, keeping a careful eye on their surroundings so they can anticipate problems, and avoid sudden stops.
Above all, the truck must be operated in a manner that allows the operator to bring the truck to a controlled stop, under any condition.
Lesson 3: Turning
Cars can often take extremely tight corners when they are correctly balanced. Forklifts can’t do the same. When your employees make turns with their lift trucks, advise them to turn as wide, and as gently, as space will allow. Of course, they shouldn’t make ridiculously wide turns, but they should use the space reasonably, to ensure they don’t tip the forklift over. The wider the turn, the more control the operator has on the truck and – most importantly – the truck and load, stay upright.
Lesson 4: Wearing a Seatbelt
Since forklifts travel at slower speeds than cars, employees may think they don’t need to wear their seatbelts. But if they don’t, a sudden accident could eject them from the vehicle. Forklifts may not operate at high speeds, but their formidable mass can still turn a momentary lapse in judgment, into a fatal mistake. Make sure all of your employees wear a seatbelt every time they use a forklift.
For more tips on operating your forklift safely, contact the trained professionals at Arpac. We offer a variety of Forklift training courses. Safe forklift operation leads to happier employees, and a more productive workplace.