Preventing Forklift Accidents Part I – The Importance of Pre-use Inspections

In September 1996 a 43 year-old man was killed while using a forklift to unload steel tubing from a flatbed trailer. Turning the forklift behind the trailer, the forklift began to turn over on its side. The driver jumped from the seat toward the driveway where his head and neck were ultimately pinned under the forklift’s overhead guard. An inspection revealed slack in the steering mechanism that required the driver to turn the steering wheel more than half a revolution before the wheels started to turn and a damaged right-side rear axle stop that didn’t restrict lateral sway as the forklift turned. Tragically, this forklift was not equipped with a seat belt.

While accidents like these don’t happen every day, they should be a reminder about the importance of pre-use inspections. When forklift drivers fail to check that the forklift is operating properly before their shift, accidents are more likely to happen. Pre-use inspections should happen daily. Even if you operate the forklift safely, a defect can cause or contribute to a serious accident. Here are some things to look for at the beginning of your shift.

Be sure the horn is working. You should sound the horn at intersections and wherever vision is obstructed. You’ll also want to check for hydraulic leaks. This could occur in the mast or elsewhere resulting in slipping hazards or hydraulic failure. Ensure that fuel connections are tight and that battery terminals are covered. Simply dropping a piece of metal across battery terminals could cause an explosion.

It’s also important that forklifts are kept as clean as possible. The forklift could catch fire if it is covered with a lot of lint, grease, oil or other material — all of which are highly flammable. There are also other fire hazards you should consider. Check the exhaust system for any sparks or flames that come out. If so, the forklift should be serviced. You should also look for signs of the engine overheating.

Tires are another component on forklifts that are often taken for granted. Low air pressure on a tire or tire failure can cause a forklift to tip or fall when a load is high. Be sure your forklift’s tires are free of damage and at proper pressure. You should also verify that all controls like lift, lower and tilt operate smoothly and are labeled.

A pre-use inspection requires a critical pair of eyes that look for any deformation or cracks in the forks, overhead guard, backrest and mast. If you work a night shift or in a dark location operating lights are essential.

You should also consider what you need to keep control of your forklift. Make sure the steering is responsive since a lot of play or hard steering will reduce your control. The forklift’s brakes should stop reliably and smoothly since sudden stops can result in tipping. And don’t forget about the parking brake especially if you drive a forklift in an area where there are steeper grades or inclines. Ensure that the parking brake can hold the forklift on an incline. Wearing a seatbelt while driving a car is the law in most states across the country yet too many drivers don’t wear them while driving a forklift. Make sure the forklift’s seat belts are accessible and working so they’ll hold you in the seat should the forklift tip. Finally, make sure the load capacity plate is readable so you don’t overload the forklift and risk tipping and turning over.

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