Forklift Training – What You Need to Know


Forklifts are an important and integral part of the UK industry. They are used for transporting goods around warehouses, handling heavy raw materials, and are in general useful to have in any type of manufacturing or materials handling business. If you are thinking of undertaking forklift training driving, there are a few things it might prove useful to know.

Forklift Training Courses

If you do want to be able to operate a forklift for work or otherwise, there are plenty of forklift training courses located all over the UK. Forklift training courses range from 5 days for a novice to 1 day for a simple refresher course. Forklift training takes place at forklift training centres and will usually have a practical test you need to pass. At the end of the course you will get a certificate that you can show to employers if you need to drive a forklift at work.

UK Legislation

When it comes to forklift driving, there is no such thing as a UK forklift licence. Some training courses may state they provide a licence at the end of training, but since there is no central licensing authority there is no such thing as a forklift licence. Health and safety regulations state that employees intending to operate forklifts must be first sufficiently trained. Training may occur much like learning to drive a car, with an in-house instructor or an external trainer. The training provider will then issue a document or a  certificate giving details of the results of the training, however this does not count as a licence. Additionally, employers must give written authority for employees to operate forklifts.

The minimum forklift operating age varies depending on its use. The absolute minimum as defined by the HSC Approved code of Practice and Guidance is 16, though many trainers will not accept trainees below the age of 17. When the forklifts will be used on public roads, the minimum age is 17, consistent with road traffic legislation. You must be 18 or over to operate forklift trucks used on dock premises.

Forklift Operation

In essence, driving a forklift is very similar to driving a car. There are however a few key differences which you need to be mindful of. Unlike most cars where the front wheels steer, on forklifts the back wheels steer. The rear end of the forklift will therefore swing around when turning, allowing the front wheels to support the weight of the load being carried. The forklift will have a large turning circle, so be mindful of your surroundings when turning.

Brakes are also significantly less efficient on a forklift when compared to a car. On a car the break system operates both the front and back wheels. The rear steering on the forklift makes it difficult to stop quickly. You therefore need to drive at a safe speed and be aware of your surroundings so that you would not need to react and break quickly.

Main Forklift Hazard – Load Stability

One of the major hazards with forklifts is their stability. Forklifts are used for handling materials and cargo, often of substantial weight. A significant hazard is presented if the truck topples over. Forklifts can be around 2700 kg, nearly twice or three times that of a conventional car, whilst loads can go up to 7000 kg. A forklift travelling with this weight at some speed could cause serious damage if an accident were to occur.

When handling loads, an important concept to understand is centre of gravity. The centre of gravity is the theoretical point on the truck which all the weight acts through. When handling loads of different weights and at different heights/distances, the centre of gravity will vary along the volume of forklift and its load.  To keep the forklift stable so it does not topple over, the centre of gravity must remain within the stability triangle of the truck.

The Stability Triangle

The stability triangle is the most stable area in a forklift. The triangle can be visualised as three imaginary lines which connect the two front wheels of the truck with the centre axle near the back wheels of the truck. In order to maintain stability, the centre of gravity must act through this triangle.

The position of the centre of gravity of the truck and load depends upon: how high the load is lifted, how the load is orientated on the forks of the truck and the weight of the load. This is better illustrated in the diagrams below.

Stability triangle for forklifts - stable


Unstable Forklift - stability triangle


To ensure stability: make sure the load is not carried excessively high, is not too heavy, is distributed evenly across the two forks, and is as close as possible to the base of the forks. When handling loads, you should also avoid heavy braking, uneven terrain, quick turns and excessive tilting/leaning forward.

SEE ALSO: [Infographic] What does a forklift consist of?

                    3 amusing forklift facts you should know

                    5 Most common forklift accidents and how to prevent them

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