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4 causes of forklift tip-overs & how to massively reduce the risk

Forklift tip-overs

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A forklift tip-over can have terrible consequences. Vehicle and stock damage are almost guaranteed, but in worst case scenarios accidents of this kind can result in serious or even fatal injuries. But, if you and your operators understand the causes and how to avoid them, you can dramatically reduce the risk of this happening on your site. To help, we’ve highlighted four common causes, as well as some top tips that can be easily applied to reduce risk in each case.

All potential causes of tip-overs should be covered throughout operator training.

1. Handling of suspended or live loads
According to recent BITA analysis of 2016–2018 RIDDOR reports, the most common contributory factor in lift truck tip-over events was the handling of live loads, or those suspended below the forks, e.g. bulk bags or loads hanging from an attachment, as opposed to loads sat on pallets. More than 1 in 5 reported truck tip-overs involved these types of loads, no doubt due to their unique effect on load centre of gravity and, in turn, truck stability. Unlike a standard palletised load, which is more likely to remain stationary in transit, a suspended or live load is far more susceptible to movement. If the operator does not understand and accommodate this, the increase in momentum can change the load centre of gravity so much that it causes the truck to tip.

To reduce risk:

  • Drive at a sensible speed — to minimise the building momentum of the load
  • Drive in reverse — this tends to mean driving slower and also ensures the operator’s view will be clear
  • Place the load on a pallet — If the load allows, palletise it, e.g. if you have a roll of material to transport, don’t suspend it via a sling through the centre. Instead, lower it onto a pallet, place bearers either side and secure to prevent movement
  • Reduce the transport distance — if the load must be suspended, minimise the amount of time it has to be carried in this way. Can you use another vehicle to get the load as close as possible before it’s lifted?

2. Turning with an elevated load
HSE statistics revealed turning with elevated loads as being the biggest single cause of fatalities in forklift accidents in the UK. It’s a common contributor towards tip-overs because turning at the same time as raising or lowering a load causes greater force to be applied to one side of the truck than the other, reducing stability. Not to mention the fact that laden trucks become less stable the higher the load is lifted, so adding an additional manoeuvre at this point can only reduce stability further. Though turning with an elevated load is often perceived as a time saver, the delays, costs and consequences of a tip-over far outweigh any minor gains to be made.

To reduce risk:

  • Carry out one operation at a time — e.g. pick up the load, reverse, lower it to a safe position, then turn and drive away
  • Ensure operators understand that potential minor time savings are not worth the risk of an accident

3. Traversing a slope or uneven ground
BITA’s analysis of RIDDOR reports suggests that between 2016–2018, traversing a slope or uneven ground accounted for 17 percent of lift truck tip-overs. Driving over slopes can only be done safely in two directions on a forklift truck, straight up and straight down, never across the incline or on a diagonal. To do so affects the lateral stability of the truck as the weight falls to one side of the vehicle, and can cause it to tip. The same principle applies when a truck travels over uneven ground; the weight becomes unevenly distributed and, combined with the momentum of the moving truck, can result in a tip-over.

To reduce risk:

  • Only drive up or down an incline, never across it
  • Always travel load uphill, forks downhill — if travelling with a load, it should always face uphill; if unladen, forks should face downhill. This will improve stability, traction and adhesion, and applies regardless of the direction the operator is travelling in
  • Only drive on terrain the truck is built for — if the truck isn’t designed for uneven ground and it is driven over rough terrain, it may not be able to cope with the demand, which puts your operator and their colleagues at risk
  • Check the operating area — look out for curbs, potholes, debris, etc., and find clear routes that won’t compromise the stability of the forklift or its load

4. Insecure loads or overloading
This caused 10 percent of truck tip-overs and 10 percent of all reported accidents between 2016 and 2018, as well as having the second highest link to fatality. Not only can insecure loads fall and injure those in the vicinity, the sudden loss can also affect stability and cause the truck to tip over. Whereas if a truck is overloaded, at ground level this can cause the back wheels to lift, or if overloaded at a height, the forklift might tip forward, potentially into racking which will cause further damage.

To reduce risk:

  • Secure loads with shrink wrap, straps or banding, then ensure they are picked up properly and fully heeled. Forks should be evenly spaced so weight is evenly distributed and the truck stays balanced
  • Understand and don’t exceed the truck’s capacity — make sure that your forklift operators know the difference between gross weight (load plus packaging and pallet) and net weight (load only)

These principles of safe operation should all form part of your team’s forklift operator training. By reiterating the key points from this guidance and regularly monitoring their operating standards, you can significantly reduce the risk of a forklift truck tipping over on your site. If you need any guidance on improving forklift safety for your site and operators, please contact us here or on 01246 555222.

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