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How to Avoid a Forklift Tip Over

forklift tip over

Forklift tip-overs are among the most common types of workplace forklift accidents. Mechanical issues and operator error are frequently to blame. These accidents can lead to serious injuries, fatalities, and damages to property and equipment. 

As an employer, it’s important that your workers receive training to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to recognize and avoid forklift tip-over hazards. Thorough training can protect your workers against accidents and shield your business from property damages and costly OSHA fines. There are several reasons lateral and longitudinal tip-overs occur, and it’s important that your workers understand the reasons, which is where the online training from ForkliftCertification.com (FLC) can help.

We’ll cover important information related to this critical safety topic, including:

  • What to do if forklift tips over
  • How to prevent forklift tips in the first place
  • How forklift tip overs happen
  • What should you do if the forklift tips over
  • Why maintenance is part of any sensible plan to avoid forklift tips
  • And much more

WHAT CAUSES A FORKLIFT TIP-OVER?

Forklifts are relatively stable pieces of equipment – so long as the center of gravity is directly above the vehicle’s wheelbase. When forklifts tip over, they usually tip either forward or to one side. A longitudinal or forward forklift tip-over happens when the center of gravity moves too far forward. That’s more likely to occur when a lift is driven down a slope or ramp. Lateral instability forklift or sideways tip-overs happen when the center of gravity shifts too far to the left or right of the wheelbase. They’re more likely to occur during sharp or sudden turns.

The Forklift Stability Triangle

Those who operate lifts on a regular basis must understand the principles behind the forklift stability triangle. It’s a fundamental concept that helps operators maintain longitudinal, lateral, and dynamic stability. To do so, operators must locate their truck’s center of gravity and make sure it falls within the imaginary triangle that reaches from the front axle to the center of the steer axle.

Just what is the forklift stability triangle, you might ask? Most counterbalanced forklifts use a three-point suspension system. That means the truck is supported by the center of the steer axle as well as the two front wheels. Picture these points as the basis of the triangle. So long as the lift truck’s center of gravity falls within that triangle, tip-overs can be avoided.

Without a load present, the lift truck’s center of gravity naturally falls within the forklift stability triangle. The more weight that is added, though, the more the weight will shift towards the front axle. Add too much weight and you risk a tip-over.

Factoring in Lateral Stability

Forklift tip-overs are likely if too much weight is added to a lift. But lateral stability can also lead to tip-over accidents. A sideways tip-over may occur if the center of gravity leaves the forklift stability triangle on either side. That’s why it’s important to keep the center of gravity as close to the center of the forks as possible. Remember, the center of gravity may not be in the geometric center of the triangle if the load’s weight distribution is irregular

Dynamic stability must also be factored into an operator’s decision-making process. Loads can shift if the lift comes to a sudden stop or start. For example, if a heavy load brings the center of gravity towards the front axle and an operator brakes suddenly, the load may shift even further forward and out of the forklift stability triangle entirely. These dynamic forces can make even the most stable of loads subject to tipping over. 

The Third Dimension of the Triangle

While it’s commonly referred to as the forklift stability triangle, the term actually leaves out an important factor: three-dimensional space. In reality, that triangle is actually more of a period, because loads can be moved upwards and downwards. As a load moves up, the truck’s center of gravity is shifted forward. What may seem like a safe load four inches off the ground may tip over at four feet off the ground. That’s why OSHA recommends always carrying the load as low to the ground as possible. Four to six inches off the ground is advised. Keep this in mind at all times, and you’re well on your way to avoiding forklift tip overs

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4 Reasons Why a Forklift Can Tip Over Forwards or Backwards 

1. Carrying Loads Heavier Than Recommended Load Ratings.

A forward tip over can occur when the manufacturer’s recommended maximum load is exceeded, which can cause the lift to become imbalanced and unstable. The forklift operator must always ensure the load is both properly balanced and within the manufacturer’s recommended load weight limit.

2. Carrying a load with the mast tilting forward.

A mast tilting too far forward can cause a forklift to become unstable and result in a forward tip over. This can happen when the forklift is driven down a ramp or slope, which is why operators should drive forklifts down a ramp backwards to avoid an accident. 

3. Accelerating or braking too quickly.

Suddenly speeding up or braking too quickly can cause the center of gravity to shift and result in the forklift becoming unstable and tipping over. Weight shifts from turning a corner too sharply can also cause this kind of forklift tip over, although it will be lateral.

4. Lifting or lowering a load on a slope.

Operators need to be sure the forklift is stable whenever the equipment is operated on a slope, as it can shift the center of gravity and cause a tip-over.

4 Causes of a Lateral Forklift Tip-Over

1. Turning too abruptly.

Turning a corner too quickly can cause the forklift’s center of gravity to shift and can cause the wheel or wheels on one side of the lift to be raised off the ground. When this happens, it’s highly unlikely that the operator will be able to recover and the forklift will therefore tip.

2. Turning with a load that’s been raised too high.

If the load is extended too far above the body of the lift, there’s a greater degree of moment, which affects the way the weight of the load is distributed. Tip-overs are inevitable when a load is raised too far up the mast and exceeds the maximum range of movement.

3. Turning while driving on an incline.

Regardless of the speed, driving a forklift on a slope or incline can be dangerous when in the hands of an untrained or inexperienced operator. When turned too quickly, the forces of gravity can shift the weight of the load and cause the forklift to become unstable and tip over. 

4. Driving over potholes or other obstacles.

Although forklifts are sturdily built machines, they’re not invincible. Hitting a pothole or other obstacle while driving over rough terrain can cause the forklift to become imbalanced and tip over. Potholes and other hazards can damage forklift tires, and cause serious injuries. 

SAFETY TIPS TO HELP AVOID FORKLIFT TIP OVERS

In order to avoid forklift tips, it helps to know what to do when behind the wheel. But remember, the best plan to prevent what to do if forklift tips over is what you’re doing before driving the lift…namely, having a solid maintenance plan in place. A good maintenance program will ensure all the mechanical and safety components are working properly, and flag obvious issues that need to be addressed. 

To avoid forklift tip overs, ensure you do the following:

  • Keep speed under control
  • Slow down approaching corners and blind spots
  • Ensure driving surface (warehouse floor, construction site, etc.) is clear of debris
  • Check the weather forecast when operating lifts outdoors
  • Route pedestrian traffic away from forklift traffic
  • Deploy safety cones, signs, warnings, etc. as required
  • Maybe the most important of all: Get your forklift drivers fully trained and certified with FLC

WHAT TO DO IF A FORKLIFT TIPS OVER

What should you do if the forklift tips over? When you think about forklift tip overs, the first thing you would think SHOULD happen is that the driver should jump out. But that’s a bad idea…and might not even be possible, if the driver is wearing a seatbelt.

Here’s what to do if forklift tips over:

  • Try to remain calm
  • Keep hands firmly on the wheel
  • Brace yourself for impact
  • Try to position yourself in the opposite direction of the fall
  • Once forklift tips and lands, call for assistance if you’re able

If a forklift tips over and you’re OK, report the accident to your supervisor

Forklift Tip-Over FAQs

IS A FORKLIFT TIP-OVER LIKELY TO HAPPEN?

While forklift tip-overs are possible any time an operator uses the machine, there are many precautions that reduce the risk of tip-overs, accidents, injuries, and fatalities.

Here are basic precautions that operators can use to prevent a forklift from tipping over:

  • Keep the forks low to the ground; ideally, the forks should be kept about 3 to 4 in. off the ground
  • Drive slowly and cautiously.
  • Watch for bumps and loose objects on the ground
  • Avoid icy, wet, and oily surfaces
  • Ensure the forklift is a safe distance away from workers and equipment at a jobsite
  • Do not approach anyone on a forklift head on

CAN A FORKLIFT TIP-OVER WITHOUT A LOAD?

A forklift can become unstable, even if it does not have a load. For example, if a driver turns too fast around a sharp curve, their lift can tip. Or, if a driver is traveling on an unbalanced surface, their lift can tip if it shifts too far in one direction. This is yet another reason why it’s important to keep your forklift seatbelt on at all times.

WHY DON’T FORKLIFTS TIP WHEN YOU’RE CARRYING A HEAVY LOAD?

If a forklift is carrying a heavy load, it won’t necessarily tip. This is due to the fact that the forklift’s load serves as a counterbalance. As long as the lift’s center of gravity remains in the wheelbase, the machine won’t tip, regardless of whether it’s being used to carry a heavy load. 

HOW CAN I IMPROVE FORKLIFT STABILITY?

If you’re hoping to avoid forklift tip-overs altogether, improving stability is key. Try to refrain from braking, accelerating, or turning too suddenly. All of these actions shift the load’s center of gravity and increase the odds of a tip over. As you’re loading your lift, also be sure to avoid loads that exceed the capacity outlined on the data plate. Off-center loads are also risky. Pay attention to your rear wheels, too – they’re a key sign of an overloaded lift. Of course, it’s also a good idea to keep your loads as low as possible, especially when you’re carrying items with a high center of gravity. 

WANT TO PREVENT FORKLIFT TIP-OVERS? FORKLIFT CERTIFICATION TRAINING IS KEY

Although there are several ways of preventing forklift tip-overs in the workplace, each of them starts with OSHA-approved forklift operator training and certification, such as is offered by ForkliftCertification.com. 

FLC’s online training can be completed in about an hour and will teach your employees how to properly and safely use forklifts and avoid workplace accidents. When your workers complete our training, they will be able to avoid tip-overs and other forklift accidents that result in injuries by recognizing and avoiding workplace hazards. Proper training can also help prevent expensive OSHA fines, as well as costly repairs for property and equipment damage. 

If you would like more information about FLC’s online training and certification programs or have questions about avoiding forklift tip-overs in the workplace, call (888) 278-8896 to speak with one of our forklift safety consultants, or click here to contact us online. To launch your OSHA approved safety program with FLC today, click here and we’ll ensure your entire forklift fleet is fully trained and certified!

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