Before You Start: Safe Working Practices To Follow Prior To Forklift Operation

Forklifts are immensely useful, but they can also be dangerous if mishandled or operated in a reckless manner. If you are assigned to use a forklift, it is vital that you understand a few special safety precautions to protect both yourself and others. These precautions aren't just for when you use a forklift, as they also include those that should be followed before you start. Before you even settle down in the seat of a forklift, you should heed the following safe working practices:

Obtain proper training on forklift usage

Before using a forklift for the first time, including operating a different machine that you aren't familiar with, it is necessary that you understand its operation in all aspects, including loading, moving, and unloading pallets or other materials. Your employer is obligated to provide solid, thorough training, so be sure to take full advantage of the opportunity to learn about forklift operations. Never rush through or skip sections of a training program; you may miss something critical that could cost you or someone else their life.

Inspect the forklift before operation

Each time you are about to use a forklift for a period of time, it is important to perform an inspection of the machine to determine if it is safe to use. Forklifts are complex machines, and even seemingly minor problems can lead to catastrophic failure. You should look over the entire machine, paying attention to the tires, engine compartment, frame, lifting mechanism, and controls. However, make an effort to look for the following specific warning signs:

Leaking hydraulic fluid and defective hoses

Since forklifts depend upon hydraulic systems to lift the forks, and loads by extension, it is vital that these systems be in perfect working order before usage. A clear warning sign of a problem with your hydraulic system is leaking hydraulic fluid. Look for pooling or dripping fluid beneath the forklift before cranking the motor, and be sure to also check hoses for cracking or brittleness that may lead to sudden failure of the hydraulics.

Bent, warped, or otherwise-damaged components

A more-subtle sign of a possible, pending accident is damage to the forklift's steel components. Even a small warping or misalignment of the frame could cause the forklift to become unbalanced and tip when loaded. Be sure to look over parts closely in order to identify these types of problems; pay particular attention to the forks and mast and also be sure to look for signs of metal fatigue in these areas, too. You can recognize metal fatigue by identifying hairline cracks or areas where paint may be chipped and bare metal is exposed.

Ensure the environment is safe for operation

Another aspect to safe operation of the forklift is ensuring that your working environment is safe. Here are a few things that will ensure the area is ready for you to use the forklift:

The working environment should be well-lit

Don't attempt to operate a forklift if you aren't able to see what you are doing. If the environment isn't well-lit, then be sure your machine has enough illumination to provide sufficient working light for your duties.

Remove obstructions whenever possible, and be aware of immovable objects

While it may be impossible or impractical to have a perfectly clear workspace, it is best to remove as many objects as possible, such as other equipment or tools, that might not allow you freedom to operate safely. If you are operating in an area around structural posts or beams, make yourself aware of these objects and form a mental map of where they are located.

Erect barriers and alert others of your intentions

It is also important that you spend time to warn others of your plans to use a forklift, especially if you are working in an environment where other employees aren't expecting their operation. You can accomplish this by erecting barricades, cones, safety ropes, signs, or other company-approved warnings. In addition, depending on your company's policy, a general announcement may be desirable; at the very least, you should be able to take a few moments to verbally warn co-workers within close proximity.

For more information, contact a company like Crown Equipment.