Forklift test black hole could compromise safety

2 August 2011

The current Thorough Examination inspection for forklift trucks does not place sufficient emphasis on checking the chain that controls a truck’s lifting and lowering functions and, as a result, there is a “black hole” in forklift testing procedures that risks compromising forklift operating safety.

That is the view of Phil Taylor, managing director of leading manufacturer and supplier of leaf chain to the materials handling industry, FB Chain Ltd.

“All working forklifts are required to undertake a Thorough Examination every year. Like an MOT for a car, it is a detailed inspection of a truck’s safety related parts,” says Phil Taylor.

He continues: “At present, there is no requirement for the person carrying out the Thorough Examination to see a truck’s Chain Test Certificate – unless they believe that the incorrect chain has been fitted. However, with one forklift chain looking very much like another, it is difficult to detect an inadequate chain from a visual inspection alone. Which is why, in my view, a truck’s Chain Test Certificate should be checked and verified as part of the Thorough Examination inspection process.”

Historically, Chain Certificates were inspected as part of a forklift truck’s annual MOT-type check. However, this changed following the introduction of the CE Marking scheme and the Machinery Directive in the 1990s, as Phil Taylor explains:

“Before the introduction of the CE Mark – which is a truck buyer’s assurance that a forklift  complies with European health, safety and environmental protection legislation – a truck user would receive all relevant test certificates from the manufacturer whenever a new forklift was acquired. This enabled anyone undertaking a forklift examination throughout the truck’s working life to easily check that, if a replacement chain had been fitted to the truck, it matched the specification of the original.

“However, since the arrival of the CE Mark, the truck manufacturer  has simply issued a one-off compliance document to the user that covers everything – including the chain. This means that truck users no longer receive a Chain Test Certificate when they buy a new truck.”

To ensure that a replacement chain is appropriate for the truck it is intended for, Phil Taylor advises truck users to buy from a reputable and well established leaf chain manufacturer or go directly to the manufacturer who supplied the truck in the first place.

“We believe that there has been a big rise in sub-standard leaf chain entering the market in recent years and it is particularly important that truck users select their chain supplier carefully. If a lift truck chain is not adequate and breaks while in use, the Health & Safety Executive will be down on the truck user like a ton of bricks,” warns Phil Taylor.

All replacement forklift truck chains should be supplied with a Chain Test Certificate. The Certificates are issued by chain manufacturers and should show full details of the chain’s minimum breaking load and proof load applied (a test to demonstrate that the chain is capable of supporting at least one and a half times its safe working load weight).

“A forklift chain must be specified with a safe working load in excess of the lifting capacity of the truck it is fitted to,” says Phil Taylor.  “And a chain’s suitability could be easily checked by the competent person carrying out a Thorough Examination if they were shown the test certificate but, at present, there is no legal requirement for this to happen.”

Typically, a forklift truck’s chain will last between three and five years before it has to be replaced due to wear and, like a truck’s tyres and forks, replacement chains are often not covered by service and maintenance packages.

Of the popular sizes of chain that it sells, FB Chain’s products are up to 30 per cent stronger than is required by the international standard which covers forklift chains.

Chas Day, technical manager for Consolidated Fork Truck Services (CFTS), the leading provider of fork lift truck thorough examinations, is not quite so concerned. He told ShD, “It was HSE that removed this requirement, and they would have brought it back if there was a problem. Competent Persons working for CFTS accredited companies carry out a number of physical tests on the chains, as well as visual inspections, and they always have the option of asking to see a certificate if they are in any doubt. In any case, ensuring that a truck is fitted with the correct chain is the responsibility of the manufacturer or dealer. The Competent Person carrying out the thorough examination is responsible for ensuring that the chain that is fitted is safe for use.”