Confidently and safely operating a forklift is a challenging thing to master, but throw in some bad winter weather and the task can become difficult and even dangerous. In the UK weather can turn for the worst very quickly, so it’s crucial that you are in complete control of your forklift to keep safe and avoid accidents.

Snow, ice, rain and strong winds can all affect not only your forklift’s performance but also the safety of the operator. It is very important that you not only safeguard your staff but also your expensive forklift fleet.

Here are some important things to consider about safely operating a forklift in the winter months:

Check the weather forecast regularly

It may seem like the obvious thing to do, but you need to know what the weather forecast is going to be before operating a forklift outdoors. If the weather looks too bad then safety must come first. It’s crucial that you are aware of what the weather will be like outside before you choose to operate a forklift as bad weather can happen very quickly and unexpectedly, so you can find yourself in trouble.

Think about the recent news of how devastating flash flooding can happen instantly, imagine trying to safely operate a forklift in such conditions!

Stay focused and alert at all times whilst using your forklift

If you are operating a forklift outdoors in winter, ice and snow could lead to a loss of control, so should be avoided as much as possible. Your hands should both remain on the wheel at all times and you should be constantly alert and ready to react to a sudden skid. Slippery surfaces provide reduced traction, so you will find yourself stopping and starting more often and suddenly losing control of your forklift.

Visibility can also be a problem in the winter; you should never operate your forklift if the visibility is bad and if you feel tired, as the combination of both can be very dangerous.

Do not forget to carry out safety checks and service your forklift

Safety checks should be the norm all year round, and, as winter weather can seriously affect your ability to operate your forklift safely, these checks should be done prior to every forklift operation.

Before you start the engine, check that everything is operating as it should: batteries, engine, electrics and hydraulics, as these are the most likely parts to be damaged by freezing temperatures or damp. Thoroughly inspect your tyres, checking the pressure and adjusting if necessary. If your tyres are over-inflated, they won’t grip very well on untreated surfaces, but if under-inflated they could go flat very quickly.

Finally, it’s important to check antifreeze levels and oil gauge, both of which are essential in preventing the engine from freezing up as the temperature drops.

Slow and steady does it

With ice and snow, you should always drive at low speeds to reduce the risk of skidding and losing control of the forklift. Tight deadlines can put forklift operators under pressure to perform quicker, but safety must always take priority over deadlines. Productivity may reduce because of snow or sleet, but if you rush you will not only injure yourself but you will damage the forklift which will cost you time and money to replace.

Forklifts are generally harder to handle than a car so, in treacherous weather, they can become very dangerous, therefore you should reduce your speed significantly if you want to stay safe.

Step by step winter-proofing your day

Warm up the forklift

In cold weather, you wouldn’t attempt to drive your car to work without giving the engine a chance to warm up, so the same goes for your forklift. Before you start working, turn the engine on and let it run for a few minutes to raise the temperature.

Trying to operate a forklift with a cold engine can cause all sorts of problems with the transmission and combustion, so it’s vital to give it some time to warm up while you ideally do the same with a hot drink.

Wear warm clothing

Whether you are using your forklift inside the warehouse or outdoors, clothing is very important. Generally, you would wear appropriate work clothes for the tasks, however, in winter you really need to focus on layering up. You should consider thick gloves, sturdy boots with warm socks (maybe even wearing two pairs), a warm hat and a warm jacket or heavy fleece, not forgetting to wear your high-vis jacket over it. It’s important to be wrapped up before you start, otherwise the cold can become a distraction and affect your judgement during forklift operation.

It is very quick to lose control of your forklift and have an accident when driving over ice patches, for example, so you must make sure you are wearing adequate clothing so the cold will not distract you and you can remain focused at all times.

Five safety tips to help your business prepare for winter, be prepared and vigilant and stay safe no matter what weather conditions you may encounter.

These tips will help owners and operators to keep their forklifts operating in perfect condition, minimising downtime and maximising safety.

– Make sure your forklift operators wear appropriate clothing

Crucial for the safety of operators and machinery

– Warm-up your forklift engine before operating

This simple tip can help you get ready for a productive day without the risk of damaging your machinery

– Ensure the anti-freeze is topped up

Anti-freeze is excellent at ensuring the engine coolant will not completely freeze and stop the forklift in its tracks. Make sure it’s topped up.

– Ensure the forklift is in perfect operating condition

Check all of the safety lights are working, replacing any bulbs if needed, especially in low visibility conditions. If operating in snow or ice, you can install forklift chains for extra grip. Ensure all electronics covers are closed to prevent snow, ice and water getting into the components risking electrocution.

– Operate the forklift according to the conditions

Slow down and drive carefully as it’s a lot easier to lose control on snow and ice. Be visible at all times with safety lights and beacons, as well as appropriate high visibility clothes.

Are you ready for Christmas?

Any warehouse equipment including forklift trucks, pallet trucks and staff will be highly sought after in the weeks leading up to the busy Christmas season, but by following our advice you’ll be able to keep up with the Christmas rush and keep your warehouse, staff and machinery safe.

– Stock up on hired equipment

In winter, there is normally an increase in hired forklifts and warehouse equipment to help businesses manage the demand in productivity. So, it’s essential that, as a business, you assess early what you are likely to need and book your hired forklifts early, to ensure you can meet the increased seasonal business.

– Brief and refresh your workforce

Consider early refresher courses for your staff, especially if they have not used the equipment or operated machinery for a period of time. It is not required by law, but keeping your workers’ skills sharp can definitely reduce accidents.

– Get ready for any winter weather

Christmas time is not only busy when it comes to increased productivity, but it is also a busy time for accidents so, if you have an accident due to the weather, you may be waiting a long time for emergency or repair services to reach you, especially in the snow. It may be a good idea to hire attachments for your vehicles to move snow, or if you have a large outdoor yard, you may need to invest in leasing a snowplough, or at the very least you will need plenty of grit and snow shovels. Make sure you have plenty of grit stored, don’t wait until it snows to stock up, or you may not be able to find any for sale.

– Train your seasonal staff well

Increased pressure at work can lead to mistakes as staff, especially temporary seasonal staff, can cut corners and rush to get their work done. This can be very dangerous in warehouse environments as a mistake could lead to a serious accident.

Seasonal Christmas staff are a great idea, not only to increase productivity and meet demand but also to support your permanent staff, to prevent them from becoming frustrated, tired and overworked, which can also lead to accidents when operating forklifts.

Make sure you only hire qualified staff or train them well so they can operate machinery safely. Make sure they are supplied with the correct PPE and are informed of your company-specific health and safety policy, keeping all paperwork handy for inspection.

– Risk assess your business for winter

With increased seasonal activity in your warehouse, you can also expect an increased level of risk in your work environment, so it is a good idea to carry out a review of your risk assessments and tailor them to the increased activity level. Factor in all the new variables like extra machinery, stock and staff, and implement safety precautions to ensure your busy season runs smoothly.

Depending on what type of forklift you use, you may also need to arrange for servicing and maintenance well ahead of the Christmas rush, to ensure any machine faults are spotted and put right before your staff get too busy.

These recommendations will not just keep your staff and machinery safe, they will also help you to confidently meet your increased customer demand.

Keeping your forklifts in top condition will not only ensure you meet the legal safety requirements; it will also save you a lot of money having to replace costly machinery. If you are looking for forklift hire or maintenance this winter then get in touch!

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