Forklifts can be involved in workplace accidents, with more than 100 deaths and 95,000 injuries each year in materials handling. Many of these are caused by operating a forklift truck that neither the driver nor their supervisor properly inspected.
Proper, daily inspection of your forklift is not only mandated by law, but it’s also the best way to make sure you’re getting onto a properly operating forklift. Printed checklists can be your best friend when it comes to ensuring that youíve got the right equipment in the right working order. These can also help you track any wear or tear that may need to be addressed.
We’ve put together some top tips on how you should check your forklift and where special points of interest are located. Whether you’re working on a forklift you own or are using a forklift rental for the day, double check to make sure you are safe and stay free from harm.
It’s never a good thing when a load is mishandled, but it gets much worse if you realize it could’ve been prevented in just a few minutes.
OSHA requires that you check your forklift at least once a day before anyone starts to operate it. While there are some obvious things to check on your forklift, this list will present you with a complete rundown of what to check and how.
Remember, never use a forklift that appears defective. Any forklift can cause severe harm if not properly used. OSHA provides you with protections so that your foreman or employer canít penalize you if you refuse to use a forklift not ready for use. However, if you do decide to operate a damaged forklift, you may be partially liable for any harm or damage that it causes.
So, how do you stay on the right side of safety? Perform a full inspection of your forklift before you start working. If the lift is being used in shifts, make sure you do your check before your shift starts. It doesnít matter if they’re new forklifts or used forklifts, always make you check.
Now, let’s get started.
Fluids That Save Lives
One of the first things you should check is the different fluid levels in your forklift. Every forklift youíll be working with will have oil, water, coolant and hydraulic fluid that you should be checked.
Use the dipstick provided in the housing to check each level. First, grab a clean rag or disposable shop towels. Next, remove the cap from your reservoir and pull out the dipstick; wipe it off. Insert and then remove the dipstick and make sure the liquid level is above your minimum requirement. Add any necessary liquid to get above the minimum level.
Repeat those steps for your remaining liquids. Remember, you’ll want to wipe off the dipsticks with a clean area of your towel. You don’t want to introduce any fuel oil into the hydraulic fluid system and vice versa.
Some new forklifts have automated systems that will check all of these levels for you. If thatís the case for your forklift, check to make sure itís on level ground and there is no fuel leak, then climb in the cab. Turn on your lift and make sure levels are in nominal ranges.
Checking Your Safety Equipment
While you’re up in the operator compartment, itís a great time to test all of the standard safety equipment you’ll find in your forklift. While the exact equipment may differ for your lift, here are some of the essential items you should be checking any time you get inside a forklift:
- Check the seat belt, buckle and connectors for your seat belt or other operator restraint. Give them a good tug. Some lifts will have hip restraints that surround your torso; sit in the seat and give this a quick check if it’s there.
- Test your backup alarm. You should be able to hear this very clearly.
- If the unit is equipped with a fire extinguisher in your cab. Make sure it is useable, there will be a service date on the extinguisher, and it should be ABC rated. Make sure you can reach it and safely use it from the sitting position in the cab.
- Do a visual check on your side-mounted mirrors. Make sure that you can see them from your seat and that they’re turned to provide you with a good field of view.
- Check your emergency equipment, too. This will include your flashers, level tilt indicator, parking brake, etc.
This equipment can save your life or the lives of those around you. Replacements for these forklift parts should be a top priority if you notice any issue. Beyond your engine, this is the most important area to check before you start using your forklift.
The Safety Walkaround
After checking your safety equipment, youíll want to take a walk around your forklift and check out both the lift and the ground surrounding it. You might be a little annoyed by having to climb into the lift and then back out, but repeating that movement is another way to help you find out if anything is wrong.
Once youíre outside the cab, look for leaks, even if you’re using new forklifts. You’ll want to visually check the hydraulic hoses and mast chains. Never shove your hand into the mast to check the chain tension; your forklift should have a stick for this. If you have a used forklift, be sure you understand how best to check the tension.
If you see any exposed hydraulic wiring or crushed steel fittings, stop what you’re doing immediately; these may indicate a major failure of the hydraulic system and that can be extremely dangerous for the operator. Replace these forklift parts immediately.
While you walk around, observe the ground for fluid leaks that may not be readily apparent on your chassis. Areas to check include your lift cylinders, wheel wells and hubs, valve spools and hydraulic fittings. Grease as well as leaks can pose a big danger because they can cause you to skid or slide. Take extra precaution with used forklifts.
As you approach each tire, check to make sure that there arenít any cuts or other damages to it. You’ll also want to check for nails or other embedded objects and double check the tire pressure to make sure it’s at the right level. Check the lift chains and rollers that may be on your forklift; damage here can make loads shift, slip or fall during use.
You should also check the forks themselves to make sure there is no significant damage and that theyíre properly attached to your lift.
The Operations Checklist
Now that you know your lift is in good and safe shape from an overall standpoint, it’s time to test the operational capabilities and controls of the forklift.
Get yourself properly seated and then turn the engine on. Without moving to the job site, check the following items to make sure they’re in proper working order:
- Accelerator linkage
- Attachment controls
- Drive functions (i.e. forward and reverse)
- Hoist controls and lowering controls (check for smoothness as well as noise)
- Hour meter
- Inch control
- Tilt control (forward and back)
With these items, youíll want to make sure the machine isnít resisting your control. Be on the lookout for increased vibrations, abnormal noises, a feeling of grinding, or controls that are sluggish to respond.
If your lift is operating much more slowly than usual, get it serviced. The inability to stop the forklift or brake quickly becomes extremely dangerous when you’re carrying a heavy load.
Battery Service & Care
Electric forklifts have large industrial batteries that use electrolyte with water to generate/regenerate power. The thing about electrolyte is that it’s clear and can possibly burn you very severely. If you’re caught in the splash of this fluid, you’ll want to immediately remove any clothing or goggles that get splashed and flush any skin that comes into contact with the electrolyte.
The electrolyte can eat through your goggles, jeans, flannel and just about anything else you could be wearing, so never take battery service and maintenance lightly.
Even batteries for new forklifts need to be charged on a continuous basis. Your specific lift will have some variations to its battery setup, but these tips can be used for most forklifts on the market:
- Check your power levels before doing work and only operate a forklift thatís fully charged.
- Change batteries only in your specified battery changing area.
- Lifting beams should be used to remove and replace the battery. Lifts with hooks can puncture the battery or cause internal damage that may expose you to acid or eventually lead to a rupture.
- If the battery has sealed vents, do not recharge it with a current greater than 25 amperes.
- Unplug your charger before connecting or disconnecting it to the battery.
If you want to double check your battery gauge after charging, install the battery back in your forklift. Next, turn it on and observe your headlights and watch your RPM. If you start reading a discharge at high RPMs, that could be a sign your battery is low.
Your Printable Lists: Diesel, Gas & LPG Trucks
We’ve created these handy lists that you can print and put in the cab of your truck to help you make sure youíve checked everything you need. This checklist is great for new forklifts as well as any forklift rentals you have on the job site. These are general lists and youíll want to make sure to check anything thatís special or unique to your forklift.
Gas, Diesel, & LPG Forklift Checklist
Work Area Considerations
Part of your forklift safety is also making sure it can handle the work that youíve got in front of you. Double check your orders and your work space before you get started.
For the work area itself, you’ll want to make sure youíre operating over level ground and youíre not driving into anything overly muddy, greasy or otherwise slick. Make sure the workspace is even or that you have the ability to raise your forks above an impediment without unbalancing your truck.
If you think the terrain will cause an overturned truck or a dropped load, talk to your supervisor immediately. Forklift rentals can be especially perilous since you may not be familiar with the truck.
Like driving a car down any road, you should always be able to clearly see whatís in front of your truck. If the load is going to block your view, you should travel in reverse after the load is secure. Always look in whichever direction youíre traveling.
As you’re traveling, make sure you never turn on a grade and are always driving with the fork downgrade. Never drive with a load downgrade, or you may quickly lose control.
If possible, plan out your route ahead of time and always drive appropriately for your job site.
Finding Problems & Solutions
There are times when a forklift isnít ready for you to use, and that fact should be brought to your supervisor, foreman or team leader immediately. You donít want to drive an unsafe forklift around your warehouse and cause significant damage because you didnít bring the problem to someone’s attention.
Always remember, you should never operate a forklift if:
- You have not been trained on proper use and maintenance
- No one has performed a daily inspection
- There is a leak anywhere in the fuel system
- Brakes appear worn or damaged
- Hydraulic fluid appears to be leaking
- Horns, backup alarms or other safety equipment does not pass initial inspection
That is in no way an exhaustive list, but any problem you’d need to note on our checklists above should ground your forklift. If you come across any issue with your forklift, send it in to maintenance immediately.