Dallas Dakin discusses how fork extensions can be used safely

06 June 2011

At least once a week I get a phone call asking about the use of fork extensions on telescopic handlers. Standard forks are designed to safety lift a 48-inch pallet. A fork extension is a telescopic handler attachment that slides over the existing forks on the lift truck to allow lifting of a longer load.

Fork extensions are a reasonable option to safely lift longer loads. However, it needs to be simpler for operators to get the proper documentation in order to avoid fines because customers often face liability for improper use and/or documentation.

Currently in North America, the law regarding the use of fork extensions and other attachments is strict. The operator of the lift is responsible for knowing exactly how much his unit can lift with or without an attachment. The big problem with fork extensions is that they move the center of gravity of the load further away from the center of gravity of the material handler.

Another problem is the forks have a specific load capacity based on a 24-inch load center. For instance, if a fork-extension is 72-inches-long then the new load center will be moved to 36 inches. This can cause the lift to lose stability and cause serious equipment damage and operator injuries.

The single most important issue for the operator is having on-hand and reviewing the correct load chart that shows exactly how much the unit can safely lift. This chart shows the capacity for each attachment throughout the entire lift cycle. The problem is, it's easy to find and buy fork extensions but it's nearly impossible to get the proper lift chart that the operators must have according by law. So I decided to see if I could find some help.

The Hunt for Answers

I can type into an Internet search engine: "fork extension" and find thousands of listings that allow people to purchase these attachments. Anyone can get their hands on them. However, looking deeper into the hunt, I kept looking for machine-specific capacity charts to go hand-in-hand with each individual fork extension.

Most of the listings didn't have any at all, while some had charts for a few select popular telehandler models.

So, what about the telehandler manufactures? I contacted some to see if I could get any helpful information, or perhaps their opinion on the use of fork extensions. I got little help.

Most didn't know who I should talk to about the extensions and transferred me from department to department. If I can't get help when I know exactly what to ask for, how can the average operator find this information?

What can we do?

There are a few options but they all have advantages and disadvantages that have to be considered and understood.

Option 1

To make all new telescopic material handlers come equipped with digital load monitors that use sensors to track the load's movement and the overall mass at the end of the boom. Many manufactures have these systems but they are expensive and complex to repair. In my opinion, the digital load monitors are fantastic because they give the operator a clear message of the real time load. However, the disadvantage to this system is that it's not easy nor cost effective to install on older machines.

Option 2

Create an online database made by the attachment manufacturer that has all the telescopic material handlers' downloadable load charts and make this database well-known to the public by using advertising, social media and training programs. The one big disadvantage to this option is that attachment manufactures have no pressure/incentive to do so.

In the end, the fork extension problem has no clear and simple answer. It is basically up to the operator to know the load limits and center of gravity.

So, for the operators in the field tomorrow, what can they do? Operators can complete an actual over-rated capacity calculation to determine the load's mass at the new load center and subtract the weight of the fork extensions. They also must pay extra attention to fork cracks and bends during daily inspections. These changes will only occur when either the government, industry or the end users demand it.

Dallas Dakin is the owner of CSL Safety Training in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He has been a trainer and operator with CSL for moe than 10 years. Dallas can be contacted by emailing safety@cslmanlifts.com

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