How Well Do You Know Your Forklift?
It should come as no surprise to hear that forklifts are an indispensable tool in the modern industrial workplace. With such a diverse range of models, options, attachments and accessories, it might be easier to list everything they can’t do than listing everything that they can. Yet, this versatility is not without its limits. Every forklift, regardless of its type or model, has built-in limitations that define how and where it can be used. When it comes to safety, these limitations have important consequences for operators and owners alike. To prevent a serious accident, then, it is essential that you understand, recognize and respect the limits of your equipment.
As you know, counterbalanced forklifts (by definition) include a heavy rear mounted counterweight. This counterweight allows the forklift to stay level and stable while lifting a load by counterbalancing the additional weight of the load and/or offsetting the shifting weight of an extended mast. While the forklift couldn’t perform its function without this counterweight, it also introduces some issues and limitations. Since the counterweight is designed to offset the weight of a load, driving without a load creates a weight imbalance that compromises the stability of the unit. When taking a corner, for example, the resulting weight imbalance conspires with the rear-end steering of a forklift – making a tip over more likely. As such, it’s even more important for operators to remain conscious of their speed when travelling without a load.
How the weight is distributed on a forklift also has important implications when travelling on a grade. When travelling without a load, for example, operators must drive in reverse going uphill and drive forward going downhill. The opposite is true when travelling with a load, backing uphill and driving downhill. All of this is to keep the heavier portion of the forklift on the uphill side of the grade or ramp, which helps to ensure that all four wheels remain in contact with the ground at all times.
To safely navigate an indoor facility a forklift operator needs an intimate knowledge of their forklift’s physical dimensions. An operator needs to know how their unit’s height and width compare to the vertical and horizontal clearances of all the doors and passageways they’ll encounter. These differences will provide you with the maximum clearance each passage provides, allowing you to safely navigate the facility. Before operating your forklift, you should also make note of any additional obstructions – such as overhead pipes, walkways, and wires – in your path of travel and adjust your travel accordingly.
Perhaps the most important limit imposed on a forklift is its maximum lift capacity. To understand why, you’ll need to understand how these maximum lift capacities are calculated. For a counterbalanced forklift, regardless of the brand or manufacturer, the maximum lift capacity is defined by what’s known as the 80:20 rule – where a maximum of 80% of the combined weight of a forklift and its load (at a 24” load center) can be carried on the front axle. When this ratio is exceeded, the unit’s center of gravity moves outside of acceptable tolerances (shifting outside of an area known as the stability triangle), placing the unit in imminent danger of tipping or rolling over.
Beyond the 80:20 rule, a forklift’s lift capacity is also limited by lift height. Here, the higher a load is lifted, the more the forklift’s center of gravity is shifted up and towards the front of the unit. As such, the maximum lift capacity of a forklift has an inverse relationship with lift height, where an increase in height results in a decrease in maximum lift capacity. To make sure you stay within the lift capacity of your forklift, you should always check the information provided on the vehicle’s load capacity or spec plate. Here, you’ll find information detailing the unit’s maximum lift capacity and its lift capacity at various heights.
As you can see, it’s essential to know both the capabilities and limitations of a forklift. This knowledge can be the difference between a smooth, safe operation and one mired by accidents and injury.