Telehandler Safety By The Book

By David Huey | September 28, 2010

OSHA Rule 1910.178 (I) requires operators of Class 7 forklifts — more commonly known as telehandlers — to pass an operator's safety training class before they move a single load of drywall or bricks. Prior to the establishment of this rule, there was wide variation in the operating practices of telehandlers, from cautiously safe to tragically unsafe.

Now, with the rule in place, any authorized OSHA inspector can drop in on a construction site to determine if the operator has received safety training.

The OSHA rule clearly states it is the responsibility of the operator's employer to provide the required safety training. Many manufacturers offer safety training courses to help employers meet this requirement. In addition, participating manufacturers also provide "train the trainer" courses. There are also many companies and organizations that offer courses that prepare an individual to be a certified trainer. Course materials are often available in Spanish.

While attending a certified training course goes a long way toward safe telehandler operation, the personbehind the wheel is ultimately responsible for safe operation of the machine. Following are standard safety practices that can reduce or eliminate accidents but do not negate the necessity of formal training and certification.

Pre-start Checks

Before starting work on a job site, check the entire work area. Conducting a visual inspection of the work site can be crucial to determining where there may be potential hazards during pick-up, transport or drop-off. Rarely do construction sites have an improved surface on which to drive. Potholes, irregular terrain, mud holes, piles of material, construction debris, snow, and water are just some of the terrain obstacles that may be present. Blowing a tire while transporting or elevating a load can cause the load to drop. In addition to checking a job site, check themachine. Perform necessary daily preventive maintenance, including repairing damage to the forks or the tires, which may have picked up a nail. Don't risk blowing a tire under full load and at elevated height. Fasten your seat belt.

High Voltage Lines

A pre-start visual check of the area must include the location of any electrical lines. In addition to permanent lines, temporary lines are often erected to power construction tools. Since telehandlers move materials to elevated heights, the number of options an operator has may be few. Operators can go under them, around them or have them shut down.

Since shutting down the power is usually not an option, it's up to thetelehandler operator to avoid the lines. Map traverse routes so the machine stays as far away as possible when transporting or elevating the load. Operators should talk with supervisors and fellow workers beforehand to give them the planned working path.

Load Pick-Up

Any load — whether it is drywall, bricks, lumber, trusses, concrete block, or any other construction material — should be matched to the right machine. Study the lift charts that are placed inside the cabs of the telehandler and obey them. Most machines of this type have gauges and indicators on the boom that correspond to marks or letters on the lift chart, letting the operator know how much weight can be lifted to maximum elevation.

Blueprints will tell a supervisor beforehand how high a reach will need to be so the proper machine can be chosen. The weight of the load is not always known. Some information may be gained from the delivery driver or the supervisors' information. But, sometimes the exact weight of the pallet is simply not available. If that is the case, operators should lean toward the conservative side.

To pick up a load properly, the operator should first set the forks to pick up for a 24-inch load center. A 4-foot-wide load would have its center midway under the two forks. If there is a perfectly shaped load — equally balanced on both sides — the chances that the load will be balanced at the first pick-up are good. However, not many are balanced on the first try. Here, trial and error must be used, and the operator should spread the forks to pick up the load and balance it. This is not the place for haste. The load may even have to be restacked. Remember that this load may be lifted to significant elevations.


Before transporting the load, cradle it backward slightly to nest it against the back of the fork's attachment. During transport, remember one important thing: Anything that increases momentum is bad. Speed, turning radius, acceleration or braking, if not done slowly, will increase momentum. If severe enough, this could create enough load shift to cause a problem. Any load shift, especially at an elevated position, can be a serious work hazard.

When transporting a load, it's best to carry it two or three feet off the ground. This clearance will help avoid bottoming out during any bumps or dips in the terrain. Be careful when crossingculverts or muddy crossings, where wheels may slip and create a hazardous load shift. The seatbelt should always be fastened. In the case of a rollover, the operator should stay seated, grab on to the wheel and not attempt to jump out.

Visibility during transport is a key factor to avoid problems. With loads that impede forward vision, back up to where the machine needs to go. If the operator can see someone, that person can probably see the operator. Any blind spots should be investigated; use the horn to let people know where the telehandler is.

Elevating the Load to Height

Drive the load close to the structure. If parking it alongside the structure, use the crab steering capabilities, if the machine being used has it. When the machine is positioned properly, set the parking brake.

The first step before elevating the load is to level the frame. Many manufacturers provide hydraulic cylinders that allow the frame to pivot from side to side in relation to the axle. This is important. Always level the frame before elevating the load. Never level the frame to reposition an elevated load. This can cause a change in momentum and load shift at the worse possible time.

With the transmission in neutral and the parking brake set, start elevating the boom to the required height. Get the boom height first, and then the boom length. If attempting the opposite, the body of the machine would be much too far away from the structure and load-lifting capability would be reduced.

Depositing the Loadat Elevation

Operators should carefully extend the boom to the deposit location and follow hand signals from fellow workers. Once the load is on the top deck, uncradle the forks and lower the load, loosen the forks from the load and retract the boom. Even with crewmates sending hand signals, this is still very much a "feel" operation. Experience will guide an operator as to exactly when the load is down and supported and when the forks can be safely retracted.

These are just a few of the operation tips that can help operate a telehandler in a safe manner. Safe work practices are a necessary part of accident prevention. Always exercise caution and use good judgment — safety for everyone on the job depends on it.

Editor's Note: Much of the information in this article was supplied by Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE), which acquired the road machinery division of Ingersoll Rand in April 2007.