If recent record-breaking low temperatures and snowfall are any indication, the first two months of 2018 are bound to deliver anything but average winter weather. As such, it’s essential that businesses and managers alike focus on providing sufficient protection for outdoor forklift operators in such difficult weather conditions. Just remember, your forklift operators face a unique set of hazards and challenges when preparing your forklift for winter including heavy snowfall, ice accumulation, wet and slippery conditions, sub-zero temperatures and limited visibility. To prevent weather-related incidents, accidents or injuries, it’s recommended that you take the following steps for preparing your forklift for winter:
Protecting Your Operators
On a basic level, protecting your employees against the harmful effects of winter begins with ensuring all of your operators are equipped with winter-ready outdoor gear. To protect the most vulnerable areas of the body against frostbite (i.e., the ears, nose, fingers and toes), your operators need to wear appropriate protective gear including a warm toque, gloves, face mask, and water-proof boots. When combined with multiple layers and wind-proof, water-resistant and high visibility outerwear, your operators should have little difficulty dealing with the cold and wet conditions found throughout the winter months.
Outfitting Your Forklifts
Beyond personal protective gear, there are a number of equipment-related steps that may be taken to further protect your employees. Considering the amount of time that your operators will spend sitting in a forklift, it makes sense to add install a protective canopy, windscreen or cover. When considering your options, be sure to stay away from thin vinyl wraps as these are easily damaged and tend to create more hassle than they’re worth. Instead, look for corrugated hard plastic covers with ribs and gutters to dispel accumulated precipitation away from the operator cabin.
Next, you’ll want to make sure that your forklifts are able to safely operate in the wet, slippery conditions created by accumulated snow and ice. This begins with ensuring your forklifts have enough traction to start, stop and navigate without entering into uncontrollable and dangerous slides. At a basic level, all of your forklifts should be outfitted with pneumatic tires, which provide greater traction and grip when compared to cushion tires that are better suited for indoor operations.
Additional measures include equipping your forklift tires with chains or studs to provide additional traction on particularly slippery surfaces or ice. It’s also a good idea to routinely plow and sand your yards to reduce the potential impact of snow/ice accumulation. Fortunately, this may be accomplished with specialized forklift attachments that allow you to plow or shovel snow AND spread sand or salt using the forklifts on hand.
Operator Training and Education
Beyond supplying the proper equipment to your employees, it’s essential to educate your operators on how to manage the additional challenges posed by the winter weather. For maximum effect, it’s essential to that your operators follow these steps before, during and after each shift:
Before the Shift:
- Conduct a proper pre-operation inspection of the forklift. Record and report any issues.
- Check the weather outside and make sure to adjust driving habits to current weather conditions.
- Install and check all winter items. Be sure to put on any safety items like a forklift cover and/or tire chains.
- Avoid cold starts by allowing the forklift to properly warm up before operating – this is important for both the engine and the hydraulics. Cold starts also increase fuel consumption and increase wear and tear.
During the Shift:
- Slow down and drive carefully. Only travel as fast as the weather conditions permit.
- Take all reasonable steps to maintain proper visibility by preventing the accumulation of snow on windscreen, etc.
- Be sure to stop working if conditions deteriorate (i.e., slippery driving conditions, limited visibility, etc.).
- Avoid short run times (less than 30 minutes). Engines tend to run a richer fuel mixture during the first 20 minutes of operation. During this time, it is possible for water vapor to accumulate in the engine oil and exhaust system as temperatures are insufficient to cause evaporation.
After the Shift:
- Clean the forklift. Removing all the snow, dirt and salt will help to prevent issues from rust and corrosion.
- Make sure to plug in the unit’s block and/or battery heater to avoid issues at the start of the next shift.
- Park the unit in a warm and dry place in between use to avoid the issues related to ice formation.
The sub-zero temperatures and additional moisture found throughout the winter months creates a number of additional maintenance issues for any outdoor forklift operation. To minimize these issues, begin by performing routine maintenance tasks and regularly conduct thorough inspections, paying particular attention to key systems such as the mast, electrical and fuel systems. To reduce the added burden this places on your maintenance staff, make sure your operators are trained to spot and report issues as they develop as this will help reduce downtime and repairs costs.
Unsurprisingly, a proper tune up in the middle of winter goes a long way towards avoiding excessive damage and/or downtime as temperatures drop. Be sure that your mechanic checks the following systems to avoid cold weather issues:
- Proper tire pressure and tread depth;
- The operation of the ignition switch, starter and glow plugs;
- Coolant and lubrication levels; and,
- Change wipers, seals, and lubricants (if necessary).
The extremely cold temperatures encountered throughout the winter months create a host of issues for most of the fluids used in a forklift. In many instances, the sub-zero temperatures can result in the formation of ice, gelling or clouding in non-winterized fluids and lubricants. For your engine oil, this means selecting an oil weight of W for winter with a number corresponding to the lowest temperature you expect to encounter. With diesel engines, you’ll also need to purchase winterized fuel or place winterized additives into the fuel system to prevent the fuel from gelling up.