Application Tips: Vertical-mast forklifts

While a telescopic handler can perform numerous tasks in addition to those a vertical-mast forklift can undertake, don’t look for these basic machines to disappear from jobsites anytime soon.

“A lot of people have been saying to me, ‘It looks like the vertical-mast forklift is slowly going the way of the buggy whip,” says Ed Ugolini, director of sales and marketing, Manitou North America. “I say, ‘No.’ The vertical-mast forklift is still an integral part of material handling on the jobsite.”

Jay Barth, product manager for rough terrain forklifts and telescopic handlers at JCB, says the straight-mast fork lift is the work horse of many jobsites. “It is cost effective to purchase or rent, simple to maintain, reliable and can safely lift and transport a variety of materials,” he says. “That is a combination that is hard to beat.”

A telescopic handler’s higher reach capabilities and ability to change attachments and reach forward make it a more versatile machine than a vertical-mast forklift, but the fundamental services the two machines provide are the same. And the vertical-mast forklift costs less, is not as complex from a component standpoint and learning to operate it is easier, Ugolini says. If, for example, you are unloading metal studs, brick, insulation, cinder block and roofing materials from a standard trailer and are staging them at a site where a one-story shopping mall is being constructed, the vertical-mast forklift will most likely meet your needs. But if the building is more than three stories tall or there’s a trench at the site and you need to place material over it, you will need a telescopic handler.

TIP: Make sure each forklift operator knows he or she is responsible for ensuring the machine is in proper operating condition and loads are within its capacity range.

Operating Tips
Properly operating a vertical-mast forklift is just as important as purchasing one that fits your applications. If you don’t operate a forklift the right way, you risk harming yourself, the load, the machine and other people and objects. An operator must keep his head in the game when using a straight-mast forklift, Barth says. Many machines will lift loads over 20 feet high – a situation that demands complete attention, he says.

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Under federal law, it is your responsibility as an employer to make sure all workers who will be operating a forklift complete a training program that meets OSHA standards. Many forklift dealers provide this training, and you can also get educational materials from industry associations such as the Associated General Contractors of America and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

Ugolini says most accidents boil down to “too much do and not enough think.” For example, you might give an employee one more thing to do at the end of day, and, with his mind focused on that task, he can get careless.

TIP: Buy a four-wheel-drive forklift if you’ll be operating in mud or loose material such as sand.

The following tips can help you avoid some common mistakes operators make while using vertical-mast forklifts
Make sure the forklift is in proper working condition. Don’t just jump in the machine and drive off. The tires should be adequately inflated; this is critical when you are lifting loads in the air. Also check for tire damage. Test the function of the mast to make sure it goes up and down and tilts properly. And make sure the brakes and all the gauges and controls are operating correctly. Do a walk-around inspection – check the oil, air filter, brakes and gauges, and look for leaks, wear on the chain or bent forks.

Remember that every operator of the machine must personally check out these things. So if operator A inspects the machine in the morning and operates it until lunchtime, when operator B takes over, he or she also has to make sure the forklift is in proper operating condition.
Ensure operators know they are responsible for understanding the machine’s capacity limits and the weight of materials they will be moving. You might know you’re going to be moving materials that weigh 4,000 pounds per pallet, for example, and buy an appropriate vertical-mast forklift. But if the operator picks up two stacked pallets at one time, there’s a problem. Trying to pick up too much is usually a result of not understanding the forklift’s capacity chart, says Mark Aldrovandi, sales manager for Liftking. The higher you lift something, the more you have to derate the machine’s capacity. You can find a forklift’s load capacity chart in its operator’s manual.

Inspect the jobsite each day for obstacles or adverse underfoot conditions. There’s a good chance something has changed from the previous day. For instance, someone with a backhoe might have dug a hole the day before and filled it in, creating a soft spot in the terrain. You also need to stop and walk over any new area of the jobsite you will be working in before driving the machine there.

Have the machine on level ground when lifting a load. Also make sure you have proper clearance and don’t bump into anything when you are dropping off a load.