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Do You Need A Qualification To Drive A Forklift On The Road?

The majority of forklifts are driven in fairly controlled environments in factories, warehouses and distribution centres where they can be separated from other traffic to reduce the risk of collisions. However, sometimes a forklift has to be driven on a road, or what is classed as a ‘road’ by local authorities (which might include car parks, driveways, wharves and footpaths).

Driving a forklift on the road comes with many more risks due to factors out of the control of the forklift operator. In some countries, an operator simply needs a driver licence for a vehicle of the same maximum weight (gross vehicle mass) of the forklift, while in others, a specific forklift qualification might be needed, such as an F endorsement and operator’s certificate.

Why is driving a forklift on the road more dangerous than in a warehouse?

Weather

Weather affects both the forklift and the operator:

  • Ice and water – these cause less friction, and that  increases braking distances and decreases cornering friction
  • Heat – in forklifts without an enclosed cab, hot weather can cause dehydration and heatstroke for the operator
  • Cold – in forklifts without an enclosed cab, cold weather can make fingers numb, meaning less dexterity when operating the forks. Extreme cases can cause hypothermia which affects how a person thinks
  • Sun strike – lifting an item with the sun in your eyes makes it hard to judge the item’s position
  • Heavy rain – this reduces visibility, and for forklifts with no enclosed cab, makes it unpleasant and distracting for the operator
  • High winds – wind pushes against the load the forklift is carrying, changing its balance and increasing the chance of the forklift tipping over.

Variable surfaces

  • Uneven surfaces – potholes and depressions are common on roads. Forklifts don’t have suspension, so if a forklift is carrying a load and a front wheel drops into a pothole, this makes the forklift lean, and that can unbalance the load (enough to make it fall off, for example). Bumps such as cat’s eyes and speed bumps also unsettle the forklift.
  • Camber – roads slope towards the gutters for drainage, but this means that the forklift is travelling while slightly leaning towards the kerb. This can cause the load to shift on the forks, particularly if the road is also bumpy
  • Kerbs – negotiating a kerb can be difficult, especially with very wide loads which can come into contact with the ground, or even get flicked off the forks. 

Other road users

Other road users can be unpredictable.

  • Pedestrians – pedestrians are often distracted by their phones or talking to other people, and not expecting to see a forklift on the footpath
  • Drivers – most drivers have not come across a forklift on the road before. When not carrying a load, the forks can be almost invisible in low light. 
  • Cyclists – cyclists are vulnerable road users with any other motorised vehicle. They may not see the forks, or expect the forklift to swing out from the rear while turning.

What should you do when driving a forklift on the road?

  1. Wait for better conditions if the weather is poor or the traffic is heavy
  2. Use cones and barriers to demarcate the working area
  3. Use a spotter (a person who can help you with controlling traffic and manoeuvring your forklift)
  4. Keep speeds slow so that uneven road surfaces don’t affect the load
  5. Use flashing beacons, plus the headlights of the forklift to stay visible
  6. Assume that other road users have not seen you
  7. Ensure that you have the right qualifications.

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