Table of Contents
What Determines Forklift Speed Limits?
There are no predetermined set speed limits that forklift operators must adhere to. Instead, companies and employers are the ones responsible for making that call. Some employers choose to follow the guidelines laid out by the Material Handling Equipment Distributor Association (MHEDA), a non-profit organization that focuses on material handling equipment.
MHEDA recommends a max speed of 8 mph in general and when working in high traffic areas or around pedestrians, a max of 3 mph. However, this is a guideline and not a required standard or rule. Other employers choose to increase or decrease the speed limits of their workplace depending on the specifics of their operation.
What is a Powered Industrial Truck?
Before jumping into the rest of this article, you must first understand what a forklift is exactly. A forklift has many names, the most common is Powered Industrial Truck (PIT). Forklifts are used in many industries and are most commonly used to move materials.
“They can be used to move, raise, lower, or remove large objects or a number of smaller objects on pallets or in boxes, crates, or other containers” (OSHA).
Determining The Limits
A safe forklift speed limit must maintain a balance between the necessity for employee safety and the capability to meet production quotas. Workplace safety may be compromised if the speed limit is set too high. However, productivity will suffer if it is set too low. To balance the two will require some trial and error. If you are an employer, take the following steps into account:
Consider Your Work Site
Any specifics about your operation that can have a negative effect on safety should be taken into account when determining your forklift speed limits. For instance,What’s the terrain like on the job site? Is the surface uneven and rocky? Or do you work on floors with a smooth surface?
Forklift speed limitations vary depending on the type of surface, such as within a warehouse vs. rugged, uneven terrain like what’s found on a construction site. This is due to the fact that lift trucks are more prone to tipping over or sliding on uneven terrain than they are on flat ground.
Take into account your floors as well. The maximum speed of a forklift is restricted by the increased braking distance caused by dust, greasy surfaces, humidity, or moisture buildup on the floor.
Consider Operator Visibility
The speed limit you, as an employer, decide upon, should not impact an operator’s vision. As a result, slow speeds are advised in situations where operators have blind spots, such as while backing up and crisscrossing aisles.
When navigating aisle intersections, corners, and other sight-restricting obstructions in certain situations, it is advised to slow down and use the horn.
Consider Forklift Types
Forklifts are not all made the same way. While some are light for light-duty tasks, others are heavier to manage larger loads. But it’s crucial to keep in mind that operators must be slower and more cautious with a heavier load. This is because heavier loads make it more difficult to make a quick stop before running into other machinery or pedestrians.
Consider Tire Types
You should also take into account the lift truck’s tire type, particularly whether it has pneumatic or cushion tires. In particular, cushion tires don’t offer as much traction as pneumatics do on slick or wet surfaces like those found in cold storage facilities.
It’s crucial to take the number and proximity of pedestrians around your forklift into account when determining a safe forklift maximum speed.
In general, it is a smart idea setting speed limitations in areas of the building with higher pedestrian traffic or barriers to avoid. Separating the area used by forklifts and pedestrians can also help prevent accidents.
Forklift Speed Limits According to OSHA
While OSHA does not mandate a specific forklift speed limit, they do lay out other guidelines for employees and employers to follow when it comes to forklift speed.
Forklift operators are required to observe all traffic regulations including the authorized speed limit within their working environment. Operators are also required to slow down and use their horn when they approach areas where their line of sight could be impaired or obstructed. This could include areas that are dark or where they are turning a corner.
Drivers should always operate their forklift at a speed that allows the forklift to be stopped safely. When approaching a surface that could present a tipping hazard, operators must slow down. Surfaces like this could include:
- Wet or slippery surfaces
- Uneven surfaces
- Slopes or inclines
Are Safe Forklift Speed Limits Enforced?
Due to the fact that OSHA does not have a set speed limit in place for forklifts, they do not enforce any specific speed limits for workplaces. However, they do enforce standards when it comes to the safe operation of the machine. Meaning that if an employee did not slow to an appropriate speed as they turned the corner and their forklift tipped over, OSHA would most likely cite that employee.
Employers are responsible for setting a speed limit for their employees as well as enforcing it. There are many ways that employers can ensure that their forklift operators are following their predetermined speed limit. By enforcing this, employers are also making the workplace safer.
Forklift Operator Training
This is the first, and perhaps the single best, way to improve forklift safety. According to OSHA, a quality operator training program can reduce forklift-related workplace accidents by 70%.
Safety training courses are designed to equip your forklift operators with everything they need to perform forklift tasks safely.
Forklift Speed Limit Signs
Posting forklift speed limit signs where operators can easily see them will serve as a constant reminder to always maintain a safe speed and follow the speed limit laid out by their employer.
Forklift Speed Bumps
These slow down traffic by requiring forklifts to stop completely before driving over them. The best places to install speed bumps are:
- Areas with high pedestrian traffic
Speed Limiting Devices
There are two choices when it comes to these devices:
- Mechanical speed control
- Electronic speed control
For mechanical speed control, there are aftermarket forklift speed limiter kits that may be installed to work with both mechanical and electronic throttles. They manually limit the engine from going beyond a certain speed — a speed which the employers will decide.
For the electronic speed control, some forklifts come with electronic programmable forklift speed control devices.
The dashboard of these forklifts, where access is typically restricted by a passcode, allows for the computerized setting of the maximum speed. Both of these techniques work well for regulating speed because the truck itself will not let the driver exceed the set limit.
When the forklift exceeds the speed limit, this will warn the operators. They can be programmed to beep when the forklift gets close to the speed limit. When the operator exceeds the speed limit, the alarm will flash warning lights or create a loud siren noise.
Why Are Forklift Speed Limits Necessary?
Forklift speed limits are necessary because a fast moving vehicle on bumpy terrain or in small working spaces will eventually result in an injury or accident. A forklift operator exceeding the posted speed limit presents many hazards and compromises the safety of everyone working around them. Some of the hazards related to excessive forklift speed are listed below.
Speeding on a forklift makes it easy to understeer, which can lead to a loss of control. Additionally, there is a chance of running into people, objects, infrastructure, and barriers.
In fact, according to OSHA, the most common reason for lift truck-related workplace fatalities is forklift trucks striking pedestrians.
Risk of Tip Overs
Many tip-overs result from high speed, which can cause instability, especially when rounding corners. In order to avoid excessive sway, operators are urged to slow down when approaching corners and to turn the steering wheel in a smooth, sweeping manner.
Reduced Ability to Stop
When moving at a faster pace, a forklift needs more space to safely stop. This can result in forklift damage, fatal injuries, other mishaps, and collisions with other employees, other machinery, and infrastructure.
Does The Set Speed Limit Depend On The Forklift Class?
The speed limit your employer establishes will depend on the class of forklift due to factors such as forklift size, forklift tire, type of forklift, weight of forklift etc. For review, the different type of forklift classes are listed below:
- Electric Motor Rider Trucks, such as rider-type counterbalanced forklifts and sit-down, three-wheel electric trucks.
- Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks, such as high lift straddle trucks and platform side loaders.
- Electric Motor Hand Trucks or Hand/Rider Trucks, such as low lift pallet trucks and high lift straddle trucks.
- Internal Combustion Engine Trucks with Solid/Cushion Tires, such as counterbalanced fork trucks with cushion tires.
- Internal Combustion Engine Trucks with Pneumatic Tires, such as counterbalanced fork trucks with pneumatic tires.
- Electrical and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors, such as sit-down riders.
- Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks, such as vertical mast-type forklifts, variable reach forklifts, and truck trailer mounted.
Horseplay & Racing
Sharing a laugh at work is one of the best ways to reduce stress, make the team more cohesive, and improve productivity. However, having a laugh and engaging in horseplay are two different things. Employees must learn to eliminate distractions and recognize the risk of unintended consequences, especially when working around heavy equipment. Actions that would be considered horseplay include:
- Racing or stunt driving
- Hopping onto or close to the forklift to startle the driver
- Steering the forklift toward a pedestrian, pretending to “hit” someone
- Throwing things at the operator
- Standing on forklift overhead guard
- Knowingly dropping a load
- Turning off warehouse lights
What Does Forklift Speed Limits Have to Do With Safety Training?
In general, forklifts aren’t thought of as being fast. However, they don’t need to be moving very quickly before they can present hazards caused by their weight and the hefty loads they carry. Improper steering can also cause safety problems.
Because of this, OSHA mandates that those who operate forklifts must be educated and certified. Understanding what constitutes a safe forklift speed can make all the difference in creating a safe and healthful work environment.
Getting The Right Training
We offer several forklift training programs at Hard Hat Training. We also offer these courses in a range of learning environments. We provide these alternatives to our customers in order to create a learning experience that works best for your business, regardless of the number of employees or their work schedule.
The forklift safety training courses we offer are Pallet Jack Training, Stand-Up Forklift Training, Sit-Down Forklift Training, Walkie Stacker Training, Tugger Training, Powered Industrial Trucks Training.
Check out our forklift signals cards to use as a quick reference for operators.