Setting appropriate forklift speed limits in the work environment is important for the safety of both operators and pedestrians who work alongside the travelling forklifts every day. Mapping a forklift path successfully requires an understanding of the capabilities of forklifts when under load and the risks involved when a forklift’s speed is not managed properly.
Braking and Acceleration
The safe stopping distance of a forklift is determined by a series of factors including:
- The speed at which the forklift is travelling
- The weight of the load it is carrying
- The road surface; and
- The physical condition of the forklift.
If the operator has to apply the brakes suddenly, the forklift may tilt forward, causing the back wheels to leave the ground or the load to slide off. The faster a forklift goes, the more distance it requires to stop. For example, at 6kph a forklift still needs approximately three meters to stop safely. Accelerating too fast carries the same risk of tilting the forklift off balance or making the load unstable. Braking or accelerating incorrectly whilst tackling slopes or during turns can also cause the forklift to roll or tip over. Outside of an operator’s responsibility to drive sensibly, the forklift itself needs to be kept in good condition. Worn tires or brakes increase the distance required for the forklift to stop safely. Whilst it is essential for an operator to familiarise themselves with each forklift they will be driving, it is equally important for employers to set up the forklift’s operation area to be as safe as possible.
Setting Forklift Speed Limits
When preparing to set a safe speed limit for forklifts in the work environment, there are several things that need to be considered. The average weight and type of loads that will be transported, areas with bad visibility, braking distance, lighting conditions, the surface to be driven on, tight corners and pedestrians are all things that need to be accommodated when planning and implementing a forklift path. The speed limit needs to reflect safe management of these risks.
In high traffic areas or low visibility areas, for example, the safest speed for a forklift to travel is usually below 6kph, the equivalent to walking pace. Correct training of operators, well placed speed limit signs and up to date maintenance logs help to minimize the risk of accidents. Once the speed limit is set, it is vital that operators are aware of how fast they are travelling in order to remain beneath the limit.
Some forklifts come equipped with a speedometer but it is possible to retro-fit older forklifts with a standalone speedometer if required. The speedometer can be set to sound an alarm when the speed limit is exceeded, warning the operator to slow down. Certain work environments might prefer a speed limiting device, which can also be purchased separately if the forklift does not already carry one. This is more common than retro-fitting. These units prevent the forklift from travelling over the set speed limit and can even be programmed with various speed limits for particular environments.
Protecting employees wherever possible is of utmost importance. Setting and maintaining safe forklift speed limits is an essential part of running a business that requires regular forklift usage. Carefully mapping the forklift path and placing the speed limit signs where they will be most visible helps operators ensure that the speed limit is never exceeded. Providing operators with a well maintained forklift means that if an emergency were to occur, the forklift has the best chance of braking within the recommended safe stopping distance. Correctly trained forklift operators are essential for minimizing forklift related workplace injuries and fatalities. Check out Worksafe Victoria for more information on forklift safety or Start Training’s range of Forklift Training Courses for both beginners or experienced operators.
by Samantha Marshall