We talk a great deal about safety, productivity, inspections, and how these can lower your overall operating costs. There are also factors to consider when operating a forklift fleet that can be costly if overlooked.

Part of any robust forklift operator training program is not only training the operators how to safely operate a forklift, but to understand the capabilities and limitations of the equipment they are about to operate. For example, you have to consider what effect making changes to the forks or adding attachments has on the safe lifting capacity of a lift truck as well as how those attachments alter the center of gravity; however, this article will address the importance of knowing the measurements of the mast and forks, and how it impacts operation.

Any operator, especially one that operates multiple types of forklifts on a regular basis, needs to know the capabilities of the forks and mast of the equipment being operated to prevent serious damage to property, product, or to prevent injury to the operator or those working in the area.  An operator must know Overall Lowered Height (OALH), Overall Raised Height (OARH), Free Fork Height (FFH) and Maximum Fork Height (MFH). If you do not understand the measurements, their importance, and the limitations they create, it can result in the following hazards:

  • Striking ceiling fixtures, low hanging lamps and heaters
  • Striking racks
  • Striking doorways and semi trailers’ doors and roofs

The Overall Lowered Height (OALH) takes into consideration doorways, truck and semi trailer doors, low hanging fixtures, and other confined spaces.  Your operator should know the height of the mast when the carriage is fully lowered and how this might impact the truck he/she is about to enter, the doorway about to be crossed, or other areas that have low hanging fixtures. This is especially important when introducing a new piece of equipment with a higher OALH than previous equipment, installing new fixtures, or using new equipment that might pose a potential problem. The bottom line is that operators need to know the height of each mast and how it impacts any part of your operation. This should be covered in training and refreshed when new equipment or fixtures are installed. It is not enough to know the OALH of a mast when entering a truck or drive thru racking. You have to take into consideration what will happen when the forklift is inside the truck and raises the forks to retrieve double-stacked pallets. For this reason, it is also imperative that the operator understand the Free Fork Height (FFH).

Operators need to be aware of the FFH when operating in areas where pallets are double stacked, such as inside tractor trailers or drive thru rack. FFH is the distance that the forks can be raised before the mast begins to extend upwards.

Knowing the FFH will reduce the incident of damage to the roof of a tractor trailer, truck, or racking when using drive thru rack.

Once a load is retrieved safely from a truck and is deposited in an upper bay of a racking system, it is important to know the Overall Raised Height (OARH) of each lift truck in operation. This can reduce damage to light fixtures, sprinkler systems, the ceiling of your facility, or other fixtures that protrude from your ceiling. Keep this in mind when installing new lighting, HVAC, sprinklers and the like. More than once we have seen companies install new, lower-hanging fixtures, or install fixtures where none previously existed and operators never had to consider them, and damage occurred.

Maximum Fork Height (MFH) comes into play when you think about the height of your highest pallet position. It seems obvious, but things can change. Installing similar racking in another location does not always result in the same height. Taking an accurate measurement and communicating this to your operators is important to be sure the lift truck can safely retrieve and deposit pallets in your highest pallet position. It is also important to know that the mast is operating properly, and each lift truck is achieving its maximum MFH at all times. If anything limits this ability, a dangerous scenario is created. Having regular planned maintenance by trained forklift specialists will help ensure this is managed properly.

We realize this may seem obvious to many of us with years of experience. However, it is important for us to understand that new employees are hired to operate equipment, new equipment is purchased, and new racking system and fixtures are introduced. All of these change the situation in your facility and must always be considered any time a change is introduced.

A thorough and robust training program is no accident in your facility. We would appreciate the opportunity to be your trusted source for operator training and helping you achieve a safe and productive operation.