How can forklift overturns and load spillages be prevented to improve forklift safety? Here’s how!

At Cat° Lift Trucks, we believe in regularly reviewing and reinforcing the principles of safe forklift operator behaviour, to help embed them in our industry’s culture. The following guidelines focus on a single factor involved in many materials handling and logistics accidents: forklift stability.

At its extreme, loss of balance in a forklift truck can cause it to overturn – sometimes resulting in the driver’s death, or life-changing injury, and always generating substantial danger and damage. However, even a relatively small forklift stability-related incident can be enough to make a forklift shed its load – endangering nearby workers and ruining valuable goods.

So, how can forklift overturns be prevented? Here are ten top tips to keep your load on the truck and your forklift’s wheels on the floor…

  1. Load with care
    To ensure forklift safety, spread the load evenly and never lift it with just one fork. It should be set back firmly against the load backrest or to the rear of the forks.
  2. Don’t overload
    Stay within the forklift truck’s load capacity. Bear in mind that the rated capacity will be reduced when making high lifts or when using certain attachments. If in doubt, ask a logistics supervisor.
  3. Adjust to your load
    Most loads are fairly ‘inactive’, but you should be especially careful with those whose behaviour can affect the forklift stability. They include freely suspended loads and liquids in partly filled containers, both of which will rapidly shift their weight from one direction to another if moved abruptly. Insufficiently supported or hastily transported wide loads will similarly ‘rock’ the forklift truck. Lower your speed, make all driving actions smooth, and carry less than the normal rated capacity.
  4. Lower your forks
    Driving with a raised load makes your forklift much less stable, as its centre of gravity becomes dangerously high and the forklift safety is jeopardised. Keep your forks and load within 150 mm of the floor when travelling, and tilt the mast fully backwards. It is also best materials handling practice to lower the forks whenever the truck is parked. When manoeuvring a load into position at height, you should move at creep speed.
  5. Check surface conditions
    Before operating a forklift truck across a work site, make sure you are aware of any surface hazards. Is there oil, grease, ice, water, mud or anything else on which it might slip? Is there a risk of the forklift’s wheels sinking into soft ground? Is the floor bumpy or uneven? Are there kerbs, steps, large bumps or other obstacles to negotiate? Each of these conditions can throw a truck off balance, affecting the forklift’s stability, so slow down and proceed with extra caution. One extra tip: when crossing railway tracks or kerbs, a diagonal approach is best.
  6. Beware of slopes
    Avoid steep ramps if you can. If slopes are unavoidable, drive slowly and don’t turn the forklift truck whilst on them. When driving up or down a slope, keep your load uphill from you so it doesn’t slide off. In other words, your forks should be in front of you while going up and behind you while going down. When travelling without a load, go forward rather than in reverse. Never stack or de-stack loads on an incline.
  7. Corner slowly
    Slow down when cornering. Excessive speed is one of the commonest causes of forklift truck overturns. The risk is even higher when combined with surface hazards, slopes or a raised load.
  8. Drive smoothly
    Jerky motion or sudden heavy braking may affect the forklift stability and throw the load off your forks. Aim for a smooth take-off, avoid abrupt accelerations and turns, and anticipate stops with gentle deceleration.
  9. Know your heights
    Before driving through a doorway or lifting a load inside a building, make sure you know the door and ceiling heights. Your forklift and its load could experience a nasty shock if clearance is insufficient.
  10. Wear a seatbelt
    This won’t actually prevent an overturn, but it is a good forklift safety measure and can save your life if it happens.

For further forklift safety advice, check out our forklift safety web page, full of helpful resources. You can also check out this useful forklift safety video.