Stuart Taylor is Managing Director of Mentor FLT Training Limited, the UK's leading provider of training and associated services for all types of materials handling equipment and workplace transport.
In recent years, the materials handling industry has begun to realise the true, multi-application potential of forklifts. Modern trucks are versatile workhorses, with a huge range of attachments and extras to suit a variety of tasks and operational environments.
Skip clamps, carpet booms, hooks, jibs, rotators, work platforms and drum grabs are just a sample of the specialist attachments developed in line with the demands of an increasingly diverse customer base.
Having one vehicle capable of performing a number of tasks on site is not only practical, but also highly cost effective. In order to maximise these gains, however, it's vital that its attachments are used properly by operators fully trained to do so, safely and efficiently. Trainers are often asked about the safe use of attachments and we recommend the following, in line with industry best practice:
Understand your machine's capabilities
When using attachments, forklift operators must consider the adverse effects that different attachments may have on the performance of their vehicle. If operated inappropriately, they have the potential to cause instability, decrease visibility, increase braking distances, or simply increase a vehicle's dimensions - any one of which could cause a serious incident if not taken into account. At best, this could cost your business time and money, but, at worst, they could cost lives. The forklift's capacity should be known and recalculated to take account of the attachment, including its weight and the new load centre.
Knowledge is power
A tool is only as good as the person using it and this is certainly true of forklift attachments. Their sole purpose is to make your lifting equipment better suited to the task at hand.
If workers are not properly trained in their fitting and use, any potential gains in efficiency are lost. A comprehensive training course will include the fitting, checking, use and removal of a variety of attachments - making for a well-informed workforce that is as versatile as the equipment they're using.
The right tools for the job
Attachments may make forklifts far more adaptable, but the safest way to operate is with the right machine for the job.
While it may be tempting to muddle by with an existing machine and a loosely suited attachment, any short-term gains will be outweighed by the increased risk of an accident, dropped load or equipment damage.
A forklift with a clamp
Neither should attachments be modified to suit a task. For instance, welding a frame onto your forks so that it can act as a tow bar will affect the weight and capacity of the attachment, in turn affecting the rated capacity of the truck. Assess your requirements and, where possible, invest in application-appropriate equipment for tasks carried out on a regular basis.
Don't forget the paperwork!
Risk assessments are a vital part of identifying potential workplace hazards, but it's equally important to remember the resulting Safe Systems of Work (SSoW) which seek to eliminate or minimise such risks, where possible.
It is imperative that managers remember to include all forklift attachments in these documents, and that all necessary personnel have access to them.
Ultimately, forklift attachments can help to increase the versatility of your trucks and the efficiency of your business, but they must be used by trained operators with the skills and knowledge to do so safely and competently.