‘Can I Use My Forklift to Work on My Car?’ and Other Dumb Questions

On a recent episode of AMC’s hit TV series “Better Call Saul”, one of the characters was using was using a forklift to lift a car so that he could search the undercarriage for a tracking device.

In the scene, which took place in an auto wrecking yard, the vehicle appeared to be precariously balanced on the forks of the lift truck, leaving viewers cringing with fear that it might come tumbling down at any moment.

It’s a legitimate fear. Using forklifts for unauthorized purposes — even in fictional TV shows — is never a good idea. While forklifts are powerful, highly useful tools, they should only be used for the purposes for which they were intended.

Lifting People

Using a forklift as a hydraulic auto lift is a bad idea. Not only is it risky, but it could easily damage the undercarriage of the car, bending the frame or body metal.

Another bad idea is using a forklift to lift people to heights without using the proper forklift attachment, the forklift work platform. Yet unfortunately, this is something you see all the time, with workers standing directly on the vehicles’ forks so that they can be lifted up by the forklift operator so they can work on changing lightbulbs, removing items from high shelving, or other elevated jobs.

The problem is that unlike a forklift platform designed specifically for this task, the forklift forks don’t have any safety features to prevent workers from falling. Lifting people up 15, 20, or even 30 feet or higher without anything keeping them secured to the work surface isn’t just foolish, it’s also highly dangerous. Even the slightest misstep, jostle, or a momentary lapse in attention can have tragic consequences.

Employer Liability

Besides courting disaster, using forklifts for purposes for which they were never intended is also a liability issue. When investigators from OSHA or another agency discover you allowed workers to use your forklift to lift cars, ride on forks, or other unauthorized purposes, you may be held liable not only for the cost of hospitalization and property damage, but also for fines, civil penalties, and even criminal prosecution — not to mention the damage to your business’s reputation.

Even if you didn’t personally know that your workers were using your forklifts in these ways, you can still be held responsible because as their employer it’s your responsibility to train and certify your forklift operators on the proper and safe operation of their vehicles.

Forklifts are super handy vehicles. There are all kinds of things you can do with them. Just make sure that they are always used the right way and with the proper forklift attachments.

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