Forklift Safety Sometimes a Matter of Simple Physics

Forklifts are powerful machines that can lift extraordinary weights. But if operators don’t know their vehicle’s lifting capacity, the weight of their payload, or even basic physical laws, the result can often be disastrous.

Most forklifts use a heavy counterweight attached to the back casing of the vehicle. This provides a counterbalance when the forklift is used to lift a heavy load and extend it into the air.

Weight, Counterweight

Simple physics tells you that when the weight of the load is more than the weight of the counterbalance, tipping will occur.

Similarly, the further you extend the heavy payload out away from the vehicle, the more stress it will put on the vehicle. Unless the forklift’s front stabilizing pads are anchored, at a certain point, the load will become top heavy and the forklift will tip.

That apparently was the case last week in an incident that occurred in Keene, New Hampshire.

About 3 p.m. Monday, December 1, a temporary forklift operator working for Begeron Construction was using a large telescopic forklift to lift a load of shingles onto the roof of a private home. Because the weight of the load exceeded the capacity of the non-anchored forklift, the vehicle tipped forward, dumping its load on to the walls of the home.

Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident, although the home — which belongs to Keen City Council member Janis Manwaring — sustained some damage, stripping off some siding and damaging a shutter.

Epic Physics Fail

Ron Leslie, Deputy Chief of the Keene Fire Department, said the operator failed to grasp simple physics.

“It became top-heavy in a hurry,” Leslie said.

Investigators were unable to question the operator after the incident because he apparently fled the scene.

Mark Goodine, head laborer with Bergeron Construction, said the driver should have known that the forklift needed to be anchored before such a heavy weight could be extended by vehicles 30-foot arm. He added that the temporary worker probably wouldn’t be hired again for future jobs … if the company could even find him.

Plagued by Bad Luck

Manwaring said she had hired the construction firm to add a slop to her flat roof. The job was supposed to have been done the previous week, but the blizzard that dropped more than six feet of snow on Buffalo, New York, also hit Keene, cutting electricity to much of the town.

“It’s been a little jinxed,” Manwaring said of the home improvement project.

A Second Physics Problem

Meanwhile, fire and police officials had another physics problem to solve: How to upright the tilted forklift without damaging power lines that ran directly above it.

First, New Hampshire Public Service was brought in to shut off power through the lines. Then two tow trucks from Keene Auto Body were brought in to right the vehicle. One stabilized the forklift while the other was hooked to the back end to lower it back upright. The machine’s arms were retracted to prevent them from hitting the power lines.

Roy Faulkner, one of the tow truck drivers, said physics helped solve the problem.

“We looked at it, critiqued it for about 15 minutes, went at it, and came out with a nice smooth landing,” Faulkner said.


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