A Key Piece of Distillery Equipment: The Forklift

By: Montvydas Banionis

Safety first! This mantra applies to all businesses, but especially to distilleries. Forklifts are commonly used in distilleries large and small, and – according to OSHA statistics – forklifts are commonly responsible for serious injuries in the workplace.

Many distilleries just starting out will purchase used equipment that may not have been properly maintained by its previous owners. Forklifts are no exception. Have a qualified person inspect any piece of equipment you add to your distillery, regardless of whether the equipment is new or used. We can’t stress this enough! Sometimes new equipment gets jostled in transit.

First off, there are several different classes of forklifts. It’s much easier to figure out what sort of daily procedures must be put into place to properly maintain a forklift if you know in which class the forklift belongs. The different classes of forklifts include:In this article, we will go over some procedures to properly maintain a key piece of distillery equipment – the forklift, as well as provide tips to stay safe while operating and working around forklifts.

  • Class I: Electric Motor Rider Trucks
  • Class II: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle
  • Class III: Electric Motor Hand Trucks and/or Hand/Rider Trucks
  • Class IV: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks with Cushion Tires
  • Class V: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks with Pneumatic Tires
  • Class VI: Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors
  • Class VII: Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks

The following tips and advice will focus on Class I and Class IV industrial, sit-down, counterbalance forklifts on either cushion (indoor, smooth floor use) or pneumatic tires (outdoor, dry conditions). Class I is for electric motor trucks, while Class IV is for internal combustion engine trucks.

Before any distillery personnel can operate the forklift, they must be trained and certified by a professional instructor. If the forklift is new, the company from which it was purchased may provide an instructor who will come out to the distillery and teach those being certified in operating the forklift. A Train the Trainer course may also be offered.

If the forklift is used or the company selling the forklift doesn’t offer the training, OSHA provides a plethora of information about forklift certification here.

Maintenance Logs

After forklift certification is complete, a designated distillery employee should be tasked with performing daily routine safety maintenance logs. These daily maintenance logs are required by OSHA under article 1910.178(q)(7), which states, “Industrial trucks shall be examined before being placed into service.”

As we mentioned earlier, it’s much easier to gather the information you need to properly maintain a forklift if you know the forklift’s class. This is because maintenance logs can be found online according to the class of the forklift.

Most of the logs go over the basic information that makes up the daily checklist. Some of that information pertains to the following aspects of the forklift:

  • Frame – Make sure that the frame is not damaged or that there are no visible cracks.
  • Tires – Depending on the type of tires mounted on the forklift, check to see if there are any visible cracks or deformations.
  • Hydraulic Lines – Verify there are no visible cracks, tears, leaks, or breaks in the hydraulic lines that operate the forks. (Note: Checking hydraulic lines can be dangerous. It is recommended to perform visual checks of hydraulic lines while wearing proper safety gear.)
  • Interior – Confirm that all switches and levers operate correctly.
  • Safety Equipment – Inspect the seat belts, harnesses, mirrors, and horns to ensure they are in good condition and operating properly.

The maintenance logs found online (depending on the forklift class) will go into more detail on all the parts that should be checked and kept maintained daily. Keeping a detailed log will help identify potential issues or malfunctions, cutting down on expenses. These safety checks are also important in keeping the forklift operator safe, as well as in keeping any distillery employees who work around the forklift safe.

Electric Driven Motors vs. Internal Combustion Engines

Deciding between an electric driven motor or an internal combustion engine comes down to the type of work the forklift will be performing. For example, if you are loading heavy equipment onto a tractor trailer, it is important to consider the weight that the batteries will add to the load to know whether the truck will be able to handle the weight. Discussing the ins and outs of your distilling business with a Certified Forklift Sales Associate is helpful to determine what class of forklift is most suitable.

Internal combustion engines (ICE) have some added safety guidelines to follow, as these types of forklifts run on propane, gasoline, natural gas, or diesel:

  • It is a recommended practice to shut off and disengage the fuel source from the forklift once it is no longer in use and is being stored.
  • When using ICE forklifts, being aware of the emissions and the ventilation in your workspace is one of the most important safety factors. Be sure to check the airflow while operating ICE trucks so that emissions do not build up.
  • The same can be said about the fuel canisters that go along with the forklift. Having extra fuel on the job site is helpful, but it can become dangerous if not stored properly. Taking the extra time to do research on how to properly store any fuel for the forklifts will help create a safe work environment and prevent on-the-job accidents.

However, electric driven motors also require ventilation when charging. According to OSHA, the batteries emit a highly flammable hydrogen gas when charging, which increases at the end of the charging cycle.

Therefore, proper ventilation with any class of forklift minimizes the risk of explosion, fire, and distillery employee accidents and hospitalization.

In Conclusion

As with any equipment, proper maintenance can prolong the life of a forklift. Proper maintenance can also help identify any issues before they become huge repair expenses or hinder the distillery’s activity because the equipment is rendered unusable.

Proper safety reduces the risk of employee incident. Be sure to have a safety checklist readily available at the start of each business day and ensure that your distillery employees are following all safety procedures. When in doubt, check out the OSHA website to find documentation on safety requirements.

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