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Should I replace my forklift forks?

by Charlie Buelow | Tue, Dec 11, 2018

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration requires all forklift drivers to inspect their powered industrial trucks before each shift. If there are any imperfections or damage to any of its components, the forklift in question needs to be taken out of service until the issues are fixed.

And what component on a forklift is more important than the forks? As such, operators must ensure the forks are in good condition before each use. A fork malfunction could result in damaged product or injuries, and can severely hold up productivity.

When inspecting forks, ask these questions to determine whether they should be replaced:

Are there signs of wear, cracks or fractures?

One of the first things to look for in your regular inspection is any sign of wear and tear on the forks, according to OSHA. Even small cracks or fractures indicate that the forklift needs immediate repair.

A forklift drives through a warehouse toward shelving units.
Forklift forks need to be in top condition for safe operation.

The tips of a fork can sustain damage after making contact with warehouse walls or the floor, so check these first for any nasty chips or cracks. That said, the fork heel, which is the right angle that's closest to the truck, typically sustains the most wear. You'll want to measure the current angle and compare it to the manufacturer's specifications. Even a few degree's difference can compromise safety.

The same goes for attachments like fork hooks too. If these show signs of wear or deformation, they should be replaced.

Surface cracks can lead to dangerous work environments, but even perfectly smooth forks can hide signs of wear that should prompt a replacement. If you see excessive deterioration of the thickness of your forklift forks, it's time to invest in replacements. Recycling Product News suggested that deterioration over 10 percent was more than enough to respond.

Does the positioning lock work?

The positioning lock on your forklift should be fully functional. Without this critical feature, operating a forklift, and especially using the vehicle to transport materials, can be very dangerous. Using a forklift with a dysfunctional positioning lock is not only a safety hazard - it's also against regulation.

Are the forks at the correct height and distance apart?

Forklift forks are designed to create a level surface on which products rest during transit. In time and through extensive use, the forks can become deformed and skewed from their original position. The two tines need to be spaced correctly apart, both vertically and horizontally.

If the forks are at two different heights, they won't provide a level surface, which can cause product to fall more easily. However, the height difference depends on the length of the blades. The difference in height should be less than 3 percent of the fork length. So, forks that are 36 inches long should have no more than a 1.08-inch difference in height. For forks that are 60 inches, the height difference can be up to 1.8 inches.

Spacing should also stay fairly consistent to how they were positioned when new. If one fork begins jutting out to the side, it may not be able to carry a load as effectively and should be replaced.

What are the forklift forks made of?

What your forks are made of can tell you a lot about the durability. One of the best materials for forks is boron-carbon alloy high-strength steel, which is typically rated 20 percent stronger than 40CR alloy steel. The way the metal was treated makes a difference too; forks that are fabricated in industrial heat-treatment ovens and cooling pools are often the strongest.

But even if your forks are made of a stronger alloy, don't assume they can continue functioning properly once damaged. Any wear to the forks, even a small crack, makes operation unsafe and should prompt a replacement. However, when seeking your new forks, it may be wise to seek out stronger materials.

When it's time to replace the forks on your forklift or the entire vehicle, it's best to do so in a timely manner. Chances are, that forklift is integral to your operations, and being short one truck can cause bottlenecks and production delays. Additionally, it's important to remember that, if one fork is damaged, they both need to be replaced.

An embedded technician at your workplace can not only help you identify forks that need replacing, but also source new forks and forklifts as needed. They will make sure you're choosing the right forks for your trucks and application, and that they are installed correctly. To learn more about how a dedicated on-site technician can help support your operation, reach out to National Maintenance Services.

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