Winter is coming, and with it comes a whole host of risks for those working in warehouses and construction sites. Cold weather increases the chance of injury and illness to employees and the chance of damage to products as well. Along with these risks are the risks associated with heavy machinery, especially forklifts. By knowing the risks associated with winter and by following these tips for cold weather operations of forklifts, you can keep your employees and their workspace safe during the winter months.
Cold Weather Risks for Forklifts
To protect forklifts and their operators, it’s essential to first know what you are protecting them from. This list is far from all-encompassing, but it does highlight some of the greatest risks forklift operators face when the temperature drops.
Effects on Hydraulics
Cold temperatures can greatly impact the viscosity of fluid within hydraulic motors. This includes hydraulic fluid, lubricants, and engine and transmission fluid. If the liquid within a hydraulic system congeals to the point of not being able to flow, it can lead to extensive damage to the entire system. But cold doesn’t only affect the liquids in a hydraulic engine. Rubber seals, which are essential to the function of hydraulic engines, can also be damaged by extreme cold.
Effects on Batteries
Because forklift batteries also contain liquids in the form of electrolytes, they are also impacted by cold weather. In cold weather, electrolytes thicken, impeding their ability to create the necessary chemical reactions to power the lift. This can cut the battery’s lifespan as well as make batteries take longer to charge.
Effects on Fuel
Fuel also thickens in the wake of cold temperatures. This impacts the fuel efficiency of a forklift, causing it to require more fuel to operate correctly and run out of fuel more quickly. Thickened fuel also tends to make a forklift operate more slowly.
Effects on Tires
Cold doesn’t only impact parts of forklifts that contain liquids. Tires, such as hydraulic seals, are made of rubber. Although tires are typically built to withstand more extreme temperatures than the rubbers in the seals, the cold can still cause tires to stiffen, deflate, or even crack. More than this is the risk of losing traction, either from icy conditions at the warehouse or job site or from tires “sweating” as the temperatures change.
Effects on Operators
Beyond the risks to the machines themselves, forklift operators also need to be wary of cold temperatures. This includes the risks of the cold itself, such as dehydration, frostbite, and other cold-weather specific illnesses like trench foot or hypothermia. Along with these risks, slick conditions make forklift accidents more likely. Even getting into the forklift can be more dangerous in the cold, as metal surfaces develop ice along the edges, making them slippery.
Safety Precautions for Operating Forklifts in Cold Weather
In light of all the ways that cold weather can impact forklifts, regular maintenance is even more important in the winter than it is at other times of the year. These are some essential maintenance steps that you will want to perform regularly throughout the cold months.
- Check fluid levels and viscosity before running the machine. Allow forklifts to “warm-up” by leaving them on idle for several minutes without a load. This will allow fluids to return to the proper viscosity.
- Store batteries in a warm, dry area, and use battery warmers for truly extreme temperatures. Consider using battery monitoring technology to determine amperage, voltage, and discharge.
- Regularly check rubber seals and tires for cracks.
- Monitor tire pressure levels and be sure to keep them properly inflated, not too much or too little. Keep an eye on tread and replace them if the tread is insufficient for the work area.
- Ensure heater, windshield wiper, brakes, and lights are functional.
In light of slick driving conditions, operators must use more caution when operating forklifts in the winter. Operators should reduce their speed, especially around corners, avoid distractions, and be aware of their surroundings. As with driving on the road, it’s also good to put more distance between the forklift and other equipment or employees while driving in cold weather. This will give the forklift more time to slow down when braking. These driving tips are essentially common sense but are especially important to remind oneself of at this time of year.
Preparing the Environment
As mentioned, wintery conditions mean slippery roads, which means an increased risk of accidents. Because roads can often become slick without looking slick, it’s always a good idea to have operators walk through the space when possible to make themselves aware of places where ice might have developed. Workers should either put salt down in these areas or avoid them entirely. In outdoor areas like loading docks, you should try to clear snow away as much as possible.
Naturally, operators should wear warm clothing to protect themselves from harsh temperatures, even if they feel that the weather does not bother them. However, they should avoid clothing that is too baggy or loose, such as bulky coats or scarves. Wearing several layers that lie closer to the skin is the best solution to this issue. Operators should also focus on the places most likely to get cold, such as the head, feet, hands, and nose. Face masks, along with preventing the spread of illness, can be used to keep the face warmer without the potential safety hazards of a scarf.
Operators should also be encouraged to take regular breaks during particularly cold temperatures. Even if an entire warehouse isn’t heated or operators are working outdoors, facilities should provide designated warming shelters for workers. Along with warmth, these shelters should also include water, sports drinks, or non-caffeinated coffee or tea to help combat dehydration. Workers should be made aware of the symptoms of cold-weather illnesses and be given specific actions to take if such symptoms arise.
Even if you are operating the most reliable used Toyota forklift, cold-weather can present conditions that can become dangerous. That’s why it is essential to be aware of the way temperature can affect forklifts and the people operating them. That way, facilities can operate smoothly all winter long.