Staying Safe When Attached: Forklift Safety with Attachments
Operate your forklift safely regardless of what attachments you are using.
Everything changes when you get attached. A romantic relationship, a favorite old pair of jeans, or a front-end loader on a forklift – the whole dynamic changes with an added attachment.
We're not really qualified to give you relationship advice or tell you when it's finally time to let go of your old clothes, but we can take you through the basic requirements of forklift safety when you're operating with attachments.
Why Should You Care?
According to statistics from Worksafe Australia, there were 61 forklift-related fatalities between 2013 and 2016. We saw a peak in serious forklift-related injuries during the 2008-09 period, with 1,100 reported injuries. Since then, there has been a steady decline. The numbers, however, remain high, with just over 800 injuries reported last year.
To keep the downward trend moving in the right direction, it is vital for all those who work with and around forklifts to be aware of the safety requirements.
Before You Get Attached
A basic forklift license doesn’t necessarily equip you to operate a forklift with its whole range of possible attachments. It is vital to ensure that you are given the necessary training to enable you to safely and competently fit, operate, and remove the specific accessories you’ll be working with (if you're not sure, check out Forklift Safety 101: Tips for Preventing Forklift Fatalities).
You should never be pressured to use a machine you haven’t been trained to operate. Employers have an obligation to ensure that, for any attachments used, specific training and supervision is provided to ensure forklift drivers are able to safely operate the accessorized machine (find out How to Refuse Unsafe Work).
Once you're confident you've been trained properly, make sure the accessory you’re looking to attach is designed for the forklift you are using. Don’t make assumptions here, and make sure to check the load rating plate. If the attachment is suitable for the machine, make sure it is properly attached to the forklift with a locking device. When in doubt, always ask before commencing operation.
Once You Start Operating
Regardless of the attachment you’re using, the load capacity of your forklift will be reduced and the machine’s center of gravity will be altered. The attachment adds weight in front of the fulcrum point, increasing your risk of tipping over, even before you’ve picked up any loads. This means, even before you’ve started any lifting, you need to drive the forklift as though it’s partially loaded – because it is.
Maintain a safe speed and take more care when maneuvering. Avoid turning while negotiating grades, ramps, and uneven surfaces. Depending on the attachment, you may even need to restrict some operating controls (if this is the case, it should be covered in your training). Be aware of any additional blind spots created by the attachment (learn more about managing blind spots in the workplace).
If there is a seat belt fitted in the machine, use it. Simple as that. Protective eyewear is also necessary to keep dust and debris out of your eyes, particularly when you’re lifting stock from overhead shelves.
Only use the forklift for the activities it was designed for. It can be tempting to bump pallets, push things out of the way, or try to MacGyver your own attachments. While your idea may seem like genius at the time, we can tell you with certainty and experience that it’s not. Stick with the safety and operator guidelines, even if it means extra time and effort to do something properly. Better to spend an extra half an hour on a job than take a “shortcut” and end up hurting yourself or a coworker.
Once You Start Lifting
There are numerous forklift attachments and all are designed to lift different types of loads. Some, like reach forks, spreader bars, and raw clamps, are specifically designed for irregular loads.
Regardless of the accessory you’re using, the load always needs to be stable. Make sure you take your reduced load capacity and changed center of gravity into account when picking and lifting. Refer to the consignment note or your driver’s manifest when determining what you can carry with the attachment.
Work Cage Rules
As cages involve working directly with other people, they have some additional safety requirements:
- Ensure you and all of the people you will be working with have been trained in the safe operation of work cages
- You all need to know the emergency procedures in case of an incident or breakdown
- Check the load capacity data plate and ensure the cage is suitable for use with the forklift
- Do not drive the forklift with people in the cage. It’s not safe and is likely to land you in one of those awful “seemed like a great idea at the time” situations
- Once you are positioned, make sure the parking brake is set, the mast is vertical, and the controls are immobilized. You only want the lift and lower functions going
- Before anyone gets in the cage, perform a trial lift to see that everything is working properly and the cage has a clear path to the work area
- Those working in the cage must stand on its floor. It is unsafe to use a ladder, or any other object, to gain extra height from the cage (see Ladders: Extend Your Reach Without Shortening Your Life for more on ladder safety)
- As the driver, you must remain at the controls, even if you’re not going to be doing anything for a while. You need to be there in case something happens
Forklift Safety Checklist
Make sure you're operating safely and have all your bases covered. Operate in confidence by ensuring you have:
- Been trained to use the specific attachment you’ll be working with
- Made sure the accessory is a fit for the machine
- Attached it properly and locked it in place
- Taken it easy while driving to account for the changed center of gravity
- Taken the reduced load capacity into account
- Restricted any operating controls detailed in your training
- Put on your PPE
- Fastened your seat belt
Attachments give your forklifts abilities it wouldn't have otherwise. It also gives you, the operator, a little more to worry about. Be sure to factor in any attachments before going through your safety checklist and getting to work.
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