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How to Properly Operate a Forklift in Winter Conditions

Four tips to safety drive in challenging conditions

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A guest post by Tom Reddon of the National Forklift Exchange.
forklift in a snowy lot

Driving a forklift in the snow or ice seems intimidating. However, with modern innovation and improvements, outdoor operations have been revamped and revitalized, even in the most trying of circumstances. Whether it’s flurries or a full-scale blizzard, adhering to these practices will prevent the issues that pile up with each snowflake. The outdoors poses numerous challenges, but there are some practices forklift operators can use to drive safer in these conditions.

1. Be alert

Forklift operators should always keep their eyes focused in front of them, constantly gazing at the area of operation for potential hazards. In outdoor scenarios, it is imperative to have a heightened sense of awareness, especially with an icy or snowy surface. Keep your hands on the wheels at all times. Traction is decreased in snowy conditions which can result in a wide range of visibility issues. It’s always a good idea to maintain concentration, even in a warm warehouse with dry floors. When you’re maneuvering outside to unload a truck or grab loads from a pipe yard, it’s critical.

2. Check all parts

The best practices for outdoor forklift operations start with assuring the forklift is ready for the most extreme weather. According to Forklift America, the vital components most affected by cold, wet weather are batteries, hydraulics, electrical systems and engines. It is crucial to execute a check of all equipment and components prior to operation.

Poorly inflated tires and a lack of pertinent fluids prior to use can be especially hazardous. First, check the pressure on all tires with an appropriate tire gauge. Overinflated tires are more susceptible to explosion and cause a vehicle fire. Conversely, underinflated tires run the risk of going flat which can be extremely perilous in icy conditions.

In addition, check antifreeze and oil to ensure they are at proper levels. This practice prevents the engine from freezing in challenging winter settings.

3. Reduce your speed

While this may seem like a common sense practice, many forklift operators find themselves pressed for time when operating in inclement weather. Generally speaking operators may feel rushed or encouraged to speed up a task to make up for lost time due to snowfall or sleet, or because it’s cold and they want to get back inside.

To allow for appropriate maneuvering with regard to black ice, snow and slippery surfaces, drivers must reduce speeds. Failing to do so can result in sudden breaking, skids and increase the chances for an accident. Remember that on its best day, a forklift isn’t as easy to handle as a car, and handles even worse on slippery surfaces.

4. Warm that forklift up

Before you leave for work in the morning, it is advised to allow the car to warm up on those especially cold days. The same rule of thumb applies to forklifts. Operating a forklift with a cold engine can cause a wide range of combustion and transmission related issues. Give your forklift a few minutes to warm up and idle before use on those extremely frigid days.

Final Thoughts

Operating a forklift in less than ideal conditions, whether inside or outside, is something that needs to be done with tremendous care and safety in mind. In winter conditions, all those considerations need to be heightened. Use your best judgement when operating in snowy or freezing conditions and always err on the side of caution.

Tom Reddon is a forklift specialist and blog manager for the National Forklift Exchange. He also sits on the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association (MHEDA) Executive Dialogue team. Follow him on Twitter at @TomReddon.

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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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