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Preventing Forklift Overturns:

6 Tips for Warehouse Managers

When people think of the risks of forklift operation, the first scenarios that spring to mind tend to involve collisions with workers and pedestrians. However, another very real and frequently overlooked danger is overturning. Almost a fifth of all workplace transport accidents involve vehicle overturning. Further, a quarter of all accidents in the same environment are forklift-related.

Given the size, weight and limitations of movement of forklift trucks, hazards attend every function; overturning is a particularly perilous event due to the potential damage to the operative, personnel, stock and equipment. A forklift can overturn backwards, sideways and forwards; numerous factors can contribute to such an accident, ranging from overloading, poor load distribution, spillages, uneven surfaces, and operational misjudgement.

There are, however, some tried and tested methods a warehouse manager can implement to help secure their employees and products against the risks of a forklift overturning.

1. Ensure operatives are properly trained and qualified

Drivers of forklift trucks should hold a valid licence issued by an approved awarding body. For most companies, and in most situations, the problem of qualified personnel does not arise. However, there will be times when, due to the limited number of trained operatives, if one, for example, calls in sick, a warehouse manager will have to redistribute their workload among the other drivers, which in itself can put a great strain on those present, and will increase the potential for accidents. Sometimes it may seem simpler and more convenient to draft in a warehouse employee who is not qualified, but who knows the fundamentals of forklift operation. This, of course, is a highly dangerous course of action; a driver who has never held a forklift license, or even who has let their licence expire, is ill-suited to perform any work in that vehicle.

Not only should a driver be qualified, they should undergo regular refresher training to ensure their knowledge and skills are sufficient to meet the demands placed upon them. As with any professional performing the same kind of work day in, day out, habits can form that prevent them from undertaking their work to the highest standard; knowledge may be forgotten and skills can become rusty and, if a driver is used to performing a particular set of functions is, for one reason or another, required to act in a different area of the warehouse, and lacks a complete understanding of the role and the environment, they pose a greater risk to themselves and others.

It is the responsibility of the warehouse manager to ensure their operatives are adequately trained and that their qualification is refreshed every two years, that the potential for overturning is kept to a minimum.

2. Ensure warehouse staff are properly trained

All staff in the warehouse play a role in ensuring the safety of forklift operations, and all are at risk from the dangers of vehicle misuse. Any personnel likely to encounter a forklift truck in the course of their work should be aware of the functions of the vehicle, its route and the purpose of its use in a given environment. Knowledge of these things enables them an understand how they can keep themselves out of harm’s way, even in the event of an extreme incident such as overturning.

More particularly, those staff involved in manually loading a forklift should be able to adequately assess the weight of a load concerning the capacity, purpose and route of the vehicle. Moreover, they should be trained to know if a particular load is unevenly distributed and to redistribute it if necessary. Various weight estimation and distribution techniques can be mastered, and equipment that can be used; training should cover the use of such equipment, and best practices relating to both manual and machine-assisted loading of forklifts.

3. Ensure a roll-over protection system (ROPS) is fitted to all vehicles

ROPS generally comprise a roll cage (or rollbar) and seat restraints. This system does not prevent the vehicle from overturning but can minimize injury to the operative; however, the operative must also be wearing a seatbelt for the ROPS to be in any way effective.

The driver must be aware when a seatbelt is to be worn; this can be made clear by markings and signboards. The ROPS, like all equipment, must be inspected frequently to ensure it is fit for use and has no defects. Inspection of the ROPS can be made as part of the daily defect check, which must be carried out on all forklift trucks daily before they are used. If the ROPS is defective, the vehicle should not be used for any work in which there is a danger of overturning. The best practice, of course, is not to use the vehicle at all until the ROPS is repaired.

4. Ensure vehicles are not loaded beyond capacity

Most overturning incidents come about as a result of the forks being overloaded. If a driver is pressed for time or under pressure, they may attempt to carry more than the forks can hold; this can result in the vehicle tipping forward as it moves off when it is in the middle of its progress, or as the driver deposits the load at its destination.

A related problem is disproportionate loading; even if the forks are carrying less than maximum capacity, if one fork is carrying significantly more than the other, or if the single load is heavier at one end than at the other, the danger is the same as it is with overloading; the threat of bodily harm is immediate and significant, and the load is likely to be damaged in the fall.

5. Ensure routes and zones are properly marked

In the course of his work, a forklift operative should know precisely the route he will travel, and the areas in which he is to pick up and deposit a load. This route, and the zones he cannot enter, should be marked on the warehouse floor, and reinforced by signage. If a driver has to guess the designated routes and areas, he is more likely to make a misjudgement, which can increase the threat of his loading disproportionately or drive on a surface that is uneven or otherwise unsuitable for that type of vehicle; which cases, the threat of overturning is greater.

6. Make it a policy that drivers do not move off with the forks extended

A common time-saving measure is for the driver, once they have picked the load from the top shelf, to proceed to move without contracting the fork; this greatly increases the risk of the vehicle overturning forwards during its progress. Because of the elevation of the forks, the risk to the product and personnel on the ground is doubled. Drivers should be aware of the need to properly contract the arms before they move off, which can be guaranteed only by proper policy and comprehensive, regular training.

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