Risks of Operating a Forklift in the Winter - Ace Equipment

Risks of Operating a Forklift in the Winter

Winter Brings Many Risks for Forklift Drivers

Driving a forklift is quite difficult on its own. These pieces of heavy machinery help numerous businesses throughout several industries increase their productivity and efficiency. However, it takes highly trained individuals to properly operate forklifts to ensure the safety of everyone in a given workspace. All operators must have the appropriate certification to even drive a forklift. During the winter months, all operators need more than just a certification.

The winter presents many risks when operating a forklift that other times of the year don’t. From the cold temperatures to the potential for snow and ice, drivers have to be far more alert than at any time during the year. Many businesses see their productivity take a hit when the weather reaches new lows over the winter.

Driving a forklift is intimidating on its own, but when you include the risk of ice and snow, things get far more difficult. The winter provides plenty of risks for forklift operators. Ace Equipment wants to help businesses and employees alike stay safe over the coming winter months.

Potential Winter Risks

As we have mentioned already, the winter brings with it countless hazards that put those operating forklifts and other employees at risk. While these risks aren’t too dangerous on their own, without the correct level of awareness and expert execution, they can be devastating. Some of these risks include:

Freezing Temperatures:

One of the most noticeable aspects of winter is the significantly lower temperatures. The cold temperatures affect the level of production for virtually all kinds of forklifts. For electric forklifts, the cold causes the battery’s electrolyte to thicken, which causes it to struggle to power the machine, lowering its efficiency and battery life. Even forklifts that utilize internal combustion engines are affected. The cold temperatures lead to hard starts and force forklifts to require more fuel to operate.

Also, no matter the forklift, the low temperatures thicken the oil in them. The hydraulic features of forklifts are greatly affected, lowering the amps and slowing down their functions.

Snow and Ice: 

Freezing temperatures are often followed by snow and ice. While not every area in the country frequently experiences snow, ice is fairly common in many areas, even in Texas. When snow and ice are on the ground, it creates dangerously slippery surfaces for forklifts to drive on. If a forklift is operating outdoors, it should be outfitted with pneumatic tires, which provide more traction and grip than cushion tires. Cushion tires are much better suited for the indoors.

Because of these slippery conditions, forklift operators must be properly trained in driving in these conditions. Often, chains or studs are equipped to forklift tires to provide them with more traction to limit the risk of slipping.

Low Visibility: 

During the winter, your ability to see clearly is also drastically impacted. Daylight savings means that the hours of daylight are shorter. Along with this, winter typically has cloudier days and higher chances of fog. The lack of daylight and the amount of clouds greatly affect your visibility. Even the ice and snow affect how well you see, too.

When snow flurries, much of what you see is just a blur of white. It is virtually impossible to see right in front of you. Along with this, the snow reflects most of the sun’s rays, which can also lead to snow blindness.

Driving in Winter Conditions

While operating a forklift in the middle of winter can be a dangerous and difficult task, it is far from impossible. Operators who have had the appropriate level of training can navigate the treacherous conditions that the winter months bring with them. You can safely drive a forklift in the winter by:

  • Staying Alert: As we mentioned already, winter weather is often wet and slippery. Snow and ice make it difficult to safely navigate when working outdoors. You should always remain on high alert when driving in winter conditions. You should always be conscious of your surroundings, staying very vigilant to how your tires feel driving through ice and snow. Keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times and stay aware of your surroundings.
  • Slow Down: Snow and ice make it difficult for your tires to get proper traction. Even with pneumatic tires outfitted with chains or studs, your forklift won’t have the grip it normally has. Regardless of the time restraints, you should always slow down. You won’t be able to know where every area of black ice or snow may be. To allow yourself the chance to safely maneuver without sudden braking or skidding, you should reduce your speed.
  • Warm Up Your Forklift: We mentioned earlier how the cold can greatly reduce the power and efficiency of your forklift, regardless of the type you have. Just like you warm your car up before you leave the house in the morning, you should do the same with your forklift. Using a forklift with a cold engine can lead to many transmission issues. Let your forklift warm-up for a few minutes before you begin your shift.

Tips for Employers

As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that the environment in which your employees work in is safe. While you may trust your forklift operators during the rest of the year, you should still train your employees on important techniques to ensure they can safely drive in the winter.

Pre-Shift:

  • Check the weather for the day to mentally prep yourself for the day’s tasks
  • Inspect the entirety of the forklift to ensure there are no issues
  • Install any winter items, such as tire chains, windscreens, and winterized fluids
  • Warm up the forklift before use 

During Shift:

  • Drive slowly and alertly
  • Have proper lighting in the area
  • Ensure visibility through a clean windshield
  • Quit working if the weather gets too bad to safely work in

 Post-Shift:

  • Clean the forklift by removing any snow, dirt, or salt to prevent corrosion
  • Park the machine in a dry, warm area to avoid freezing
  • Plug forklift into its charging station

The winter can be an especially dangerous time of year to operate a forklift. The conditions are not always safe, limiting visibility and decreasing traction. There are numerous risks for anyone operating a forklift, even if they are experts. While there are risks, there are countless ways you can ensure the safety of all your employees. If you have any questions regarding how to safely operate a forklift in the winter, contact Ace Equipment.