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Healthy trucks, healthy site

30 April 2013

Up to 20% of all workplace accidents in Europe each year are thought to be directly related to maintenance issues. Here, Peter Harvey, chief executive of the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA), explains the importance of fork lift truck maintenance

When you invest in a fork lift truck, whether it’s by outright purchase or hire, to perform a particular task, it is tempting to focus solely on its performance levels. A fork lift truck makes it all look easy – effortlessly lifting a couple of tonnes, time after time.  But appearances can be deceptive. Your truck’s work is not effortless and to keep it in good working order, its working parts will need to be regularly cleaned, lubricated, cooled, adjusted or replaced. This, however, takes time and resources to achieve.

Regulation 5 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER 98) states that:  "Every employer shall ensure that work equipment is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair.”

Primarily, this ensures that equipment is safe to operate, but the state of maintenance has implications for productivity. Without proper maintenance, things can go dramatically wrong in the workplace, creating a very unhealthy environment.  Typically, poor maintenance can lead to:

  • Excessive fumes 
  • Unpredictable performance 
  • Oil and hydraulic fluid leaks

At worst, a chain may fail with catastrophic results.  This is, however, a very rare occurrence and extremely unlikely in a fork lift truck which is properly maintained and inspected. Neglecting your fork lift truck will ultimately cause break downs. When this occurs, it is incredibly difficult to move a truck safely. It could be blocking an aisle, or worse –and at best – will delay operations until a service engineer arrives on the scene.


Daily/pre-shift checks


A sound system of daily or pre-shift checks is the cornerstone of good maintenance. This ensures that essential fluids are kept topped up and potential defects are identified before they become a much bigger problem. Completed by fork lift truck operators at the start of their working day, or shift, these checks should be carried out properly and recorded formally. Checks will involve operators looking at a range of items, such as:

  • Any outstanding faults
  • Obvious leaks
  • Warning lights
  • Tyres, wheels and nuts
  • Damage to vital components 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. For further guidance on the items which your pre-shift checks could cover, refer to guidance from your truck’s manufacturer or fork lift truck dealer. 

An inexpensive Daily Check book – suitable for recording pre-shift checks – is available from the FLTA website (www.fork-truck.org.uk).

Importantly, if operators are unsure of any aspect of the check process – or its outcomes – they should bring this to the immediate attention of their supervisor. In addition, if a truck’s warning light is illuminated, it must not be used unless the truck is determined to be safe to operate. Above all else, if a fault affecting safety is discovered, a truck should not be used until it has been rectified. 

Preventative maintenance

Rather than waiting for a fault to occur, a programme of planned preventative maintenance should be followed. When trucks are hired, the hire company must be allowed regular access to carry out this vital work.

Preventative maintenance should be scheduled in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations. For further guidance, refer to your fork lift truck dealer. 

The time interval between services will vary according to the intensity of your application and working environment. Generally, the more challenging the environment, the more frequently routine servicing will be required.  

For maintenance purposes, fork lift trucks are regarded as ‘plant’. Accordingly, time intervals are recorded in hours, but your dealer will translate this into months to help you identify dates for planned maintenance.

While there is no guarantee that regular scheduled maintenance will prevent all breakdowns, it will certainly help. Moreover, it will significantly reduce the instances and impact of the other risks mentioned above.  Importantly, taking this step enables you to plan for downtime and minimise its effect on your organisation’s operations. 



Many fork lift trucks operate in clean, dry areas, meaning they require little cleaning, if any. Special attention, however, is required for trucks at risk from contaminants which can cause premature failure. These include applications involving: 

  • Loads which shed fibres or grains
  • Dusty or muddy environments
  • Corrosive metals

Keeping your truck clean will reduce this risk, however, inappropriate cleaning may make the problem worse. Considerations include:

  • Chains need to retain their lubrication, so don not steam clean or power wash
  • Sidewalls of pneumatic tyres can be weakened by high pressure water, particularly when heated, and strong soaps.
  • Bearings, seals, gaiters and anything electrical are not designed for close contact with high pressure or steam equipment. 
  • Hard-setting or corrosive substances should be immediately washed off after contact.  

Stay Aware

It is not enough to consider all of this just once. Legislation, technology and best practice all evolve. Somebody at your organisation – preferably more than one person – needs to keep fully up to date with best practice in materials handling safety… and if they have other things to do, this can be a headache. 

To address this, the FLTA created the Safe User Group. Designed to make its safety expertise available to companies operating fork lift trucks, this Membership provides companies with simple, legal, safe advice amid the confusion of regulation, legislation and official guidance surrounding their use.

Members benefit from a comprehensive support package valued at £1500 – including practical safety resources, regular updates on new rules and advances, a monthly newsletter and, importantly, a confidential telephone helpline – for just £177 per year.  

To find out more, visit www.fork-truck.org.uk/safe-users-group.