Forklift Safety: Stabilizing the Load
Off-center loads, overloading, loading damaged or loose loads, and driving too fast are all too frequent causes of serious and fatal forklift accidents. In this article we review how forklift operators can ensure load stability to profoundly reduce injuries and death due to tip-overs, spills, and other forklift accidents.
Before getting started, be aware of the environment. That means considering maximum floor loading and clearance heights and checking for overhead objects.
Once the environment is understood, consider the lift truck itself; Can the forklift handle the load? A review of the lift truck’s data plate for rated capacity and load center will answer this question. Trying to move a load that’s beyond the truck’s rated capacity can cause the forklift to tip over. For a load that is too heavy, get a bigger lift truck or off-load some of the weight.
Check the condition of the pallets. Pallets can cause problems if they can’t withstand the weight of the load. A weak pallet may break during transport, causing an accident. Make sure the pallet is strong enough before transport. Also, make sure the load’s weight is evenly distributed on the pallet.
For maximum stability, the forks must be fully under the load. That means the forks should be at least two-thirds the length of the load. And of course, never use the tip of the forks as a lever to raise a heavy load or push a load since this may damage or distort the forks, damage goods, or cause an accident.
For stability when picking up a load, work on a level, even surface, never on a ramp. The forklift must be stopped, and the brakes set before the forks are lifted.
Make sure each load is fully secure (with shrink-wrapping, banding, rope, etc.) before moving the forklift. Loads that aren’t secured can shift or fall during transport, causing accidents.
Forklifts are designed to safely carry loads that are evenly distributed across the forks. Never attempt to lift a load with just one fork. Trying to carry a load on a single fork means weight is distributed unevenly which can cause a tip-over accident, dropped or damaged goods and/or a bent fork which will make every subsequent load uneven and unsafe.
Off-center loads are dangerous and should be centered before loading if possible. If not, OSHA stipulates operator must:
- Center the load as nearly as possible. [29 CFR 1910.178(o)(1)]
- Use caution when handling off-center loads that cannot be centered. [29 CFR 1910.178(o)(1)]
- Distribute the heaviest part of the load nearest the front wheels of the forklift.
And finally, a warning that bears repeating: Don’t overload a forklift. You cannot operate a forklift safely when it is overloaded. Know the capacity and the specified load center. And, understand that an off-center, oversized or improperly distributed load may exceed the truck’s load capacity and overloading can cause the forklift to tip over.
When traveling, increase the stability of the load by tilting the load back slightly (with the heaviest part as close to the mast as possible) and positioning the forks as low as possible (6-8 inches from the ground). The load should be positioned so the operator’s sightlines are maintained. If visibility is a problem, another employee can serve as a spotter.
To avoid the load sliding off the forks, do not travel with the mast tilted forward. Tilt the mast forward only when picking up or depositing a load.
Operators also need to take extra care when traveling over rough, uneven, or sloped surfaces as these can cause the load to shift, moving the weight off-center.
As much care needs to be focused on unloading as on loading. Begin by inspecting the load to make sure goods (and weight) have not shifted and check for hazards in the unloading area.
For maximum stability, make sure the forklift’s brakes are set so it cannot move. Do not unload on an incline or uneven surface since both conditions can cause the forklift to move unexpectedly, putting everyone near the machine in danger.
Rely on TrainMOR
When it comes to thoroughly training operators on forklift safety, rely on TrainMOR. Contact us for information on our Mobile, Memorable, and Measurable training courses—available online, in classroom and on-site.