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Anybody who has ever gotten behind the wheel of a forklift understands that they don’t handle the same way as cars, trucks, or any other type of vehicle.
Technically, forklifts are classified as “Powered Industrial Trucks” — or PITs, for short — by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration. That puts them into an entirely separate category from other vehicles. Other types of PITs include pallet jacks and order pickers.
OSHA regulates PITs differently than other types of vehicles. Within the PIT classification itself, there are sub-classifications that designate different degrees of enforcement. For example, you need to be certified before you can drive a forklift, but not to operate a pallet jack.
So what makes forklift so different? There are essentially three factors that put forklifts into a PIT category of their own.
Difference No. 1: Center of Gravity
Unlike cars and trucks, the center of gravity is different for just about every size and model of forklift. For example, a three-wheel forklift will have a much different center of gravity than a four-wheel model. Similarly, a lighter electric forklift will have a different center of gravity than a heavier diesel-powered rough terrain forklift.
Knowing the center of gravity for your specific model is important because forklifts can tip more easily than other vehicles.
The vehicle’s center of gravity also has a direct effect on the forklift’s safe lifting capacity. For example, if you try to lift a load that is higher than the rated capacity for your vehicle, it may tip forward.
Difference No. 2: Load Center
Forklifts can lift heavy loads because of their counterweight. Generally, this is located at the rear of the forklift.
The counterweight affects the load center, which is the distance of the forklift’s center of gravity to the vertical face of the forks. When lifting a pallet or other load, it’s important to keep the rear edge of the load as close to the mast a possible in order to keep the load center within the vehicle’s rated range.
Lifting loads using only the front portion of the forks can cause the forklift to tip forward, even if the load itself is lower than the rated maximum lift capacity of the vehicle.
Difference No. 3: Stability Triangle
Both the center of gravity and the load center influence the forklift’s stability triangle, which is defined as the triangle formed by the front axle and the rear center point that lines up with the rear axle.
In order to safely lift loads of any weight, the center of gravity and the load center must stay inside the stability triangle.
Factors that can influence the stability triangle include the speed of travel, centrifugal force caused by turning, the height of the load, the angle of slope of the surface the vehicle is driving on, and the tilt angle of the mast.
There’s a lot more to remember while driving a forklift than other vehicles. No wonder they are in a category of their own!