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A forklift’s emergency brake — or e-brake, for short — isn’t just for use in emergencies. It should be set every time the forklift is parked, especially when the driver is leaving the vehicle.
The typical forklift weights somewhere in the neighborhood of 9,000 pounds. Some outdoor, rugged use forklifts can weigh much more. So if the vehicle is parked on even the slightest incline or decline, it can easily start to roll if the e-brake isn’t set.
And once something that heavy starts rolling, it’s nearly impossible to stop — especially if it’s continually gaining speed. When it collides with a wall, a cage, or — God forbid — a person, the results can be disastrous.
How E-Brakes Work
While there are different types of e-brakes, many work using a shoe that fits inside the brake drum on the wheel of the forklift. When the brake is engaged, the brake shoe is forced against the brake drum, creating enough friction to slow down the forklift if it is moving and to keep the vehicle stationary if it is parked.
The brake shoe itself is made up of two parts. The brake lining and the brake drum. The brake sheet is the rounded part that fits snugly against the brake drum when the e-brake is engaged.
Typically, the brake lining has a rough surface to enhance its ability to hold the vehicle in place due to friction.
Wearing Out the Brake Lining
While the brake lining is designed to be wear and heat resistant, over time the brake lining can wear out. As such, it needs to inspected regularly and replaced when needed.
Excessive brake wear can occur when the operator forgets to disengage the e-brake before driving the vehicle. It also can get worn faster if the driver has a tendency hit the brake too hard or not give the forklift enough time to decelerate before stopping.
Using two feet to brake also can wear down the brake lining faster than normal. Another cause of e-brake failure is damage to the brake assembly through a collision or structural damage.
While the typical brake assembly is designed to operate problem-free for a long time, there are warning signs that it may be wearing out.
If the driver notices that the forklift isn’t stopping as quickly or as accurately as it normally does, or if the brakes make an unusual noise when they are applied, it’s probably time to have your forklift brakes checked out.
Brake inspections also should be part of your routine maintenance plan for your forklifts. Qualified mechanics should inspect the brakes on all of your forklifts according to a regular schedule and as needed.