Goldilocks and forklift speed

Danny Maron -
Safety First
- 26 Mar 2020 ( #967 )
5 min read
Danny Maron, owner/trainer of Ideal Forklift Training in Canada's national capital, is an independent consultant, providing the education lift truck operators require, to businesses and government, to minimise the chance of incidents in the workplace. Before founding Ideal in 2000, Danny was a trainer at Canada's largest forklift dealer.
Goldilocks was very tired by this time, so she went upstairs to the bedroom. She lay down in the first bed, but it was too hard. Then she lay in the second bed, but it was too soft. Then she lay down in the third bed and it was just right. Goldilocks fell asleep.

How fast is fast and how slow is slow? When operating a forklift of any type in a warehouse, a frequent question asked of me is: 'what is the speed we should be driving our forklifts at?'. Well, that is a loaded question, isn't it?

Let us start with legalities. Since I am in Canada, I will quote three sources. The first is the provincial Occupational Health & Safety Act which is the law that governs forklift operations in the province of Ontario (there are similar lawbooks in all other provinces and territories in Canada). This is strictly a provincial legislation that covers the rights of Ontario (or whatever province/territory we are dealing in), laws as well as fines and punishments.

There is also a subsequent booklet named the Safe Operation of Powered Industrial Lift Trucks in the Province of Ontario which tries to be like the CSA (see below) but doesn't quite reach that far and spends most of the pages telling us what competent operators are supposed to know, rather than telling us how they are supposed to do it.

How fast is too fast?
How fast is too fast?
The second is the Canada Labour Code scripted by the federal government which has its own set of laws that are quite similar to the provincial laws, but with stiffer fines and punishments. The Canada Labour Code oversees federal government employees, as well as independent businesspeople and certain industries.

Thirdly, we have the Canadian Standard Association which oversees all aspects of Canadian life, similar to CE in Europe and UL in the United States. It is the CSA guidelines that completely detail the proper operation of powered industrial trucks in Canada. Every detail regarding the proper operation of powered industrial forklifts is outlined in Sections 4 and 6 of this book.

Before we go any further, I will let everyone know that although the Occupational Health & Safety Act must be widely available in every business throughout Ontario for the purpose of employees to have access to their rights, nobody - and I mean nobody - reads it. No pictures, tiny font, and all written in legalese that only a lawyer or someone with law training can understand.

No-one really knows that the booklet, Safe Operations of Powered Industrial Lift Trucks in the Province of Ontario even exists.

Canada Labour Code is mainly for federal government employees and most, if not all, could not even tell you which federal government authored this book and what it contains.

Both federally and provincially, I have to teach what is in these books.

And finally, there's CSA B335-15 - not the law, just guidelines and recommendations. Nobody reads that book either: too many words and not enough pictures, so I go through the requirements during the presentations, as all other safety trainers should as well. Why? Because this book tells operators, step-by-step, how to use the forklift in every circumstance. All safety rules are born with the CSA guidelines and as trainers, we teach safety, amongst other things.

So, the question is "how fast is fast and how slow is slow and what is just right?"

You will not find a speed limit in any of the booklets mentioned above because there are no speed limits. Some companies may be bold and instruct their staff how fast they can drive the forklifts inside the plant/warehouse, and some go even further by posting arbitrary speed limit signs inside the warehouse, but where they get these numbers from is anybody's guess.

So, to answer the question, we have to look at the operator's prime responsibility, and we all know that it is to keep everybody safe, and ensure that everyone, including the operator as well as pedestrians, leaves work on their own two feet. In the industry, we know that it is the operator's responsibility to look out for pedestrians and not the pedestrian's responsibility to look out for forklift drivers. Therefore, the onus is on the forklift operator to ensure that no harm comes to any pedestrian, or there will be financial consequences as well as other forms of punishment.

We all know that forklifts are very heavy pieces of machinery and many come to a stop using two sets of drum brakes. Stopping a forklift is unlike stopping a car with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes. The stopping distance is greater with a forklift, and even more so when ground conditions are dusty, oily, full of absorbal, snowy, rainy or freezing rainy. When conditions are slick, the stopping distance is much greater. Not good for the forklift operator and definitely even worse news for the pedestrian.

So, the answer to the question as to whether there is a speed limit for forklifts is no. Is there a speed limit that companies and forklift operators must understand to keep pedestrians safe in their warehouses? Yes, there sure is!

I am not going to provide a number such as 6 MPH or 6 KPH; however, I will tell you this: Forklift speed inside a warehouse/plant should never exceed pedestrian speed. Whatever speed the pedestrians are walking, that should be the forklift speed! You don't want to go too fast. You don't want to go too slowly. You want to travel at a speed that is correct and safe!

But unlike Goldilocks in bed, you must be 100% attentive at all times.
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