Forklifts are useful, powerful and versatile tools designed for industrial heavy lifting and transportation of materials across short distances. Just like there are a variety of industry types and industrial settings, forklifts come in multiple shapes, sizes and varieties to serve different purposes, and they all require regular maintenance to keep them running efficiently.
It’s important to be aware of your machine’s features to maintain them properly. Depending on your industry, you may use or be in the market for any of these types of forklifts:
- Counterbalances: The most common type of forklift, counterbalance appliances are straightforward and built for handling all types of material movement. Their dual forks make them especially suited for bulky, heavy loads and items.
- Reach Trucks: As their name suggests, reach trucks have an enhanced ability to reach taller heights with their extended lifts, making them perfect for use in warehouses with high-rise racking. This type of forklift has multiple types within itself, including the Double-Deep and Stand-Up trucks. While the Stand-Up reach truck is optimal for unloading one load at a time, Double-Deeps have longer forks, allowing them to reach to the back of the loading bay and deal with multiple shipments at once.
- Pump Trucks: These forklifts are less common because of newer, improved options, but pump trucks don’t use any electric power for lifting. Instead, they’re useful as pallet jacks, requiring the operator to manually pump to lift materials.
- Teletrucks: Telescopic handler forklifts are also useful for high lifting and reaching storage in mezzanines. These forklifts extend much higher than any other standard machine and often resemble cranes.
- Powered Pallet Trucks: The modern version of a pump truck, powered pallet trucks use electrical mechanizations to lift, store and transport skids and packages.
- Three-Wheel Counterbalances: Similar to regular counterbalances in capacity, three-wheel counterbalances have one fewer wheel. Their subsequently slimmer build allows for more maneuverability with heavy items in tighter spaces and narrower aisles.
- Sideloaders: Like three-wheeled counterbalances, sideloaders are optimal for operating in narrow spaces. This machine has mounted forks on its side to enable it to carry especially long or wide loads that typical forklifts can’t handle. Enclosed Cab side loaders are designed for outside work, while Stand-Ups are best for indoor lifting and loading.
No matter the type of forklift your industry uses, one thing is certain — maintenance and upkeep is key to your company’s shipping, storing, loading, operating and safety. To help you ensure everything is running smoothly in your warehouses or industrial settings, we’ve compiled this list of advice on forklift maintenance.
TIPS FOR MAINTAINING YOUR FORKLIFT
Accidents happen where heavy machinery and vehicles are involved, especially in a large setting that relies on multiple lifting trucks to transport and control wares. Sometimes industrial mishaps are the result of mistakes, inattention or mishandling, but a surprising amount of dangers arise from improper maintenance.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, the sixth most-cited standard in workplace safety concerns was related to Powered Industrial Trucks.
Of the 2,855 annual violations, 617 citations involved issues with safe operation, and 255 mishaps cited maintenance and truck repair. Avoid such risks and accidents in your own industry by not only following OSHA’s safety standards, but also by upholding a regular maintenance routine to check the functionality and operability of your forklifts. Here’s what you may do:
- Complete Daily Checks - Every day before kicking your forklift into gear, check essential features such as tires, oil, water and safety items like seatbelt, mirror, emergency disconnect and rating plate. We’ll cover daily checking points with the engine off and on in more detail later.
- Raise Fork Tines - When your fork tines drag on the ground too often, you expose them to excessive wear. When you keep tines lowered, your forklift uses more fuel to carry the weight, and you’ll inevitably need to replace them more often. To avoid wear and extra costs, raise fork tines regularly.
- Check Tire Wear and Pressure - If your forklift is constantly moving in the same direction and operating in the same route, you could have a problem with speedy tire wear. To keep your tires in better shape and ensure maximum efficiency, rotate them regularly. Replace tires and load wheels when necessary. You must also perform frequent checks on your tire pressure to prevent accidents resulting from load shifts and uneven turns. Keep the tire pressure just beneath or equal to the pounds per square inch recommended in your driver’s manual.
- Maintain Traction Batteries - If you’re operating an electric-powered vehicle, make sure you’re keeping your batteries appropriately charged at the right time. Do not opportunity-charge several times during a shift — this will only reduce your battery life long-term. Instead, charge the battery once it’s at about 30%, and keep it charging until it’s done. Be sure to unplug it once it’s finished — overcharging can also have negative effects on long-term battery lifespan.
- Check Hydraulic Hoses - When your hoses wear out, they may begin to crack, split, leak or weaken. To avoid this kind of damage and the danger it poses, keep a constant eye on the condition of your forklift’s hydraulic hoses and be efficient about replacing damaged parts before they fail.
- Blow out the Unit - To keep a clean unit and prevent the common problem of a blocked radiator, make it part of your routine to rid your forklift of compressed air. You should do this by blowing out the unit about once a week.
- Check Temperatures - Be mindful of standard operating temperatures for your forklift and make sure the various parts do not overheat. Overly high temperatures may cause hazardous conditions, so remove overheated trucks from the floor and do not place them back into use until the problem is addressed and corrected.
- Clean Forklifts - Keep your equipment clean by removing grease, oil and lint with non-combustible sanitary agents. When cleaning your industrial trucks, make sure to be mindful of toxicity, fire hazards and ventilation and take the necessary precautions.
- Ensure Operator Licensing - Always make sure you and all operators have the proper training and licensing to handle and check the forklift equipment. Restricting operators to those with licensing and an understanding of OSHA standards contributes to better procedural safety, better forklift conditions and better assurances of efficient daily checks. Those with training will also have a strong understanding of the equipment’s boundaries, which will prevent the possibility of damage due to overloading.
- Put Dangerous/Nonfunctional Equipment out of Service - Don’t ever continue to use damaged, outdated or faulty equipment, even if it still seems operational. Remain responsible and mindful of safety and optimal conditions for the site by removing and repairing industrial trucks that cannot operate under proper conditions.
- Conduct Regular Servicing - OSHA recommends regular servicing and removal any power-operated industrial vehicle in an unsafe operating condition. You may maintain your forklift yourself by following these steps, but if there’s anything you’re unsure of, concerned about or don’t know how to properly fix — or even if it occurs to you that it’s been a long time since your last professional check — schedule a servicing. You should also make sure to stay informed on the specific vehicle manufacturer’s directions for maintenance.
- Report Problems - If you spot an issue with your forklift, don’t wait until the machine isn’t functional and don’t put it off until later — report it! If you delay or forget, the problems will pass to the next operator, which may be dangerous. If an issue occurs during or before your shift, act immediately because shaky components may certainly wear down and become worse during the day. Staying on top of conditions immediately is the best way to ensure your machinery operates safely and with optimal performance.
THINGS TO CHECK WITH THE ENGINE OFF
Before using your forklift every day and for any purpose, you should perform standard checks to be sure everything is in working order and will operate smoothly for optimum safety and productivity. Prior to powering on your machine, make sure to regularly follow these maintenance tips:
- Exterior - Inspect your tires, forks and tines. This is where tire pressure, rotation and wear comes into play. Make sure everything is in optimum shape outside the forklift. You should also check beneath the vehicle to see if there are any leaks in oil, coolant or fuel. Lastly, take a look at the floor around your workspace and clear the area of any obstacles that could interfere with your pathway.
- Engine Compartment - Make sure everything is right with your engine before you start it. Pay attention to the level of the engine oil and the state of the filter — change them if necessary. Check your belt conditions, tighten the clamps on your hoses and check to see if your fuel lines have any leaks.
- Fluid Levels - Check all the main systems to make sure you keep fluids above the minimum level. Pay special attention to the transmission, master brake cylinder, hydraulic system, coolant, conditioner and steering system.
- Lubrication - To work smoothly and function well, all your machine’s parts should be well-oiled. Before you turn on your forklift’s machine, make sure to lubricate the brakes, chains, hinges, attachments and clutch and acceleration pedals. Taking care of all its mechanisms ensures your forklift runs better and longer.
THINGS TO CHECK WITH THE ENGINE ON
When you’ve double-checked everything with the engine off and revved up your forklift for your shift, you should still test a few operations to maintain the machine and be confident in its safety and operability. Here’s what to look for:
- Horn Function - You should always be able to alert other operators to your presence or send out a warning signal. Before the daily shipment and transportation rounds, give your horn a few good blasts to be certain it’s audible over all the other noises in the facility.
- Seatbelt Operability - According to OSHA, 42 percent of forklift-related fatalities occur because operators aren’t strapped into a vehicle correctly when it tips. Operators should always use seat belts, and this means their functionality is essential. For your own safety and the safety of other operators, make sure the seatbelt works properly and smoothly before gearing your forklift into drive. When you’re strapped in and secure, you make sure you’re protected and equipped to handle both standard work or unforeseen issues.
- Brake Response - It’s essential to double-check the responsiveness of your lifting truck’s brakes before you dig into the work. To avoid messy, hazardous accidents caused by brake delay or inoperability, test out the foot and parking brakes prior to moving or lifting anything. If the response is timely, you’re good to go.
- Light Function - A faulty light might not seem like a huge impediment to forklift function, but any error may affect your vehicle’s function and safety. Once the machine is on, make sure the headlights are operating correctly, and the warning lights turn on. Taking the time to check now could save you from a sticky situation later.
- Exhaust - Your exhaust system is crucial to the functioning of the machine, so make sure everything is working before you start working your forklift for the day.
WHEN TO GET YOUR FORKLIFT SERVICED
Depending on various factors — such as your particular truck type, the volume of work and environmental conditions of indoor or outdoor use — you will need to service your forklift at different intervals. Every six months is a good baseline standard for technician checks, but consult your manufacturer’s instructions to make sure you’re giving your machine the servicing it requires. Sometimes, servicing intervals as frequent as 90 days is necessary.
You should also schedule servicing whenever your forklift is in an unsafe condition, according to OSHA standards. Here are some faults that require professional repair and attention:
- Tires are worn down, missing rubber or out of rotation in a way you can’t address yourself.
- The machine shows signs of missing bolts or broken welds.
- Gauges aren’t functioning properly or temperatures rise above operating standards.
- Hydraulic hoses are cracked and weeping, or the forklift has any kind of oil, water, coolant or other liquid leak.
- The radiator is blocked, or the exhaust system isn’t functioning correctly.
Even if your forklift isn’t damaged and you conduct daily checks, intermittent professional servicing is still important for long-term upkeep, functionality and safety.
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