From terrain considerations to load charts, these best practices are the key to rough terrain forklift safety.
The telehandler, also called a rough terrain forklift or telescopic handler, is a powerful, versatile machine that can transform jobsite productivity.
“The telehandler is the machine now,” said Matthew Owen, corporate master safety trainer for United Academy, the training branch of United Rentals. All four wheels are capable of steering, so you can get into tighter spaces, and the boom can reach as high as 55 feet. It’s easy to change the load handling attachment, from fork to bucket to material handling hook. Because you can level the frame laterally, you can set the machine on uneven ground.
With all the benefits of these machines comes some unique safety considerations. Owen offered these pieces of advice to operate telehandlers safely.
1. Get trained
The best way to ensure safety is to start with training. Online courses in rough terrain forklift operation are available. Operators can become certified after a live practical evaluation session.
2. Wear a seatbelt
OSHA doesn’t require forklifts to have seatbelts, but operators are required to use seatbelts when they are available. Wearing a seatbelt significantly reduces the chance of injury or death in an accident, especially if the machine tips over.
3. Inspect the machine before use
This applies to all equipment. In the case of the telehandler, pay special attention to the tires and look for cuts. “The cuts on normal operation won’t present a problem, but under severe load, those cuts can open up and release the fill from the tires and cause the machine to lean to that side,” said Owen.
Owen also advised looking for loose steering components. “Most of the steering components are exposed on those machines, so it’s something you should notice in an inspection.”
4. Read the load charts
“What a lot of folks don’t understand is that even though the machine may be a 10,000-pound rated forklift, it’s not 10,000 pounds with the boom fully extended. The misconception is that the advertised maximum capacity is safe to lift through the full range of motion of the boom, and that’s not the case,” said Owen. Extend the boom too far with too much load and the most likely outcome is a tip-over.
In United Academy training classes, “We teach them how to read the load charts, very similar to what you’d find on a crane,” Owen added.
5. Perform a hazard assessment
Conduct a pre-work walkaround so you’re aware of people and objects, including overhead objects, that pose potential hazards. Telehandlers have “huge blinds spots,” said Owen, especially the right rear corner. That’s one reason it’s not uncommon for an operator to run over a stationary object, such as jobsite materials.
“Adjusting the mirrors properly is key — and then of course actually using them,” said Owen.
6. Be realistic about the terrain
A telehandler can weigh more than 25,000 pounds without a load. The pressure these machines exert on the ground is immense. “Just because it says rough terrain doesn’t necessarily mean allterrain,” Owen noted. Operators get telehandlers stuck in mud or soft terrain “quite frequently,” said Owen. The solution? “Know your surroundings.”
7. Drive straight up or down a slope
If you drive a telehandler diagonally up or down a slope instead of straight up or straight down, you increase the risk of a rollover. If you drive on too steep a slope, same goes.
Check the manufacturer-specific limit to the slope and grade the machine is capable of operating on.
Always make sure the center of gravity stays within the stability triangle, an area that stretches from the two front wheels back to the point below the rear axle pivot, halfway between the rear wheels. If the center of gravity moves forward or too far in any direction, the risk of a tip-over will increase.
OSHA specifically prohibits wrapping a chain or sling over the fork instead of using a lifting eye,” said Owen. “Metal chains on a metal fork are slick, they can slip off.
8. Balance your loads
Unbalanced loads are one of the causes of telehandler accidents. “From time to time you’ll see folks not opening their forks wide enough to accommodate the load, for instance,” said Owen. “Your forks can commonly spread as wide as 4 feet, sometimes 6 feet, but sometimes operators will leave them significantly smaller and then try to pick up a bundle of lumber that’s 12 feet long. At the first dip in the ground you hit, the load tips.”
9. What if the telehandler tips over?
Should the telehandler tip over, fight the instinct to jump from it. You could get pinned or crushed beneath the machine. Your seatbelt will prevent you from being thrown and keep you in your seat. To minimize the risk of injury on impact, grip the wheel securely and brace yourself with your feet.
10. Attach the load properly
Be sure to attach the load following OSHA rough terrain forklift regulations. For example, “OSHA specifically prohibits wrapping a chain or sling over the fork instead of using a lifting eye,” said Owen. “Metal chains on a metal fork are slick, they can slip off.”
11. Avoid carrying loads too high
Carrying a load too high can make the machine top heavy, potentially resulting in a tip-over. A load should generally be carried as low to the ground as possible considering the terrain. Operators don’t always do this.
“Generally what folks try to do is get the load out of their line of vision and look under it. But the proper technique would be for them to use an additional person to spot or guide them, or to travel in reverse,” said Owen.
The majority of telehandler accidents are preventable. Use these tips to create your own telehandler safety checklist and avoid injury while getting the most out of the machine.
Marianne Wait is an editor and writer who creates content for Fortune 500 brands.