Preparing Forklifts & Aerial Lifts for Winter Weather [2018 Guide]

Winter can wreak havoc on material handling equipment like forklifts, boom lifts and scissor lifts. The cold temperatures and wet, slippery conditions are a nuisance for the moving parts in your machine and can be dangerous for your operators. Our cold weather operation guide will take you through the many steps to preparing your equipment and operators for winter. We’ll include everything from maintenance tips to safe operation practices starting with forklifts and moving on to aerial lifts. Topics include:

Preparing Forklifts for Winter

Preparing Boom Lifts and Scissor Lifts for Winter

Preparing Forklifts For Winter

When it comes to forklift operation in winter, you’ll want to be as prepared as possible. Get ahead of the game now. Otherwise you may end up dealing with unexpected downtime. Which, as we all know, is costly in both time and money. We’ll highlight key areas that you should give a little extra attention as the cold weather approaches.

Cold Weather Forklift Maintenance

Maintaining your forklift is never more important than during the winter months. Make sure planned maintenance is performed regularly – the technicians will check all the major areas of your forklift and they’ll know what to look for in colder weather. If you don’t have PM’s performed regularly – you’ll want to check a few key areas of the forklift yourself.

Anti-Freeze

When your anti-freeze levels are too low your forklift can over heat. Worst case scenario – you could crack an engine block. Make sure you check the anti-freeze level in your engine coolant.

Engine Oil

The oil weight you’re using should correspond to lowest temperature you expect to see. Stick to the manufacturer’s recommendations. These are usually found on the oil fill cap or in the owner’s manual. You can always call your local dealer for recommendations based on your forklift and application.

Hydraulic Oil

To keep your hydraulics moving the way they should be, get a cold climate hydraulic oil. These oils are a lower viscosity which means they’ll stay stable in colder temperatures and flow more easily.

Industrial Forklift Batteries

For those of you with electric forklifts, your industrial batteries require a little extra care in the winter.  This could mean changing your battery storage, maintenance and charging methods for the winter season.

Read more on winter industrial battery care.

Pre-Shift Preparation

While pre-operation inspections are required year round, your operators should take a little extra time during the winter. Cold, wet weather impacts the entire forklift but the components most affected include your transmission, engine, electrical system, batteries and hydraulics.

Have your operators complete a thorough inspection of the forklift before each shift. If the forklift has been sitting un-used for several hours let it warm up for 2-3 minutes. This will reduce the stiffness of the fluids. Which helps ensure peak performance for your hydraulics and reduces the risk of combustion and transmission related issues.

Winter Forklift Tires

Operating outside can be tough on your forklift tires and unfortunately there’s no such thing as winter forklift tires. While winter tires for your car have different tread depths, patterns and rubber, forklift tires don’t have a winter variation.

Replacing your old tires can be a good way to prepare for winter. The newly replaced tires will have more usable tread and that’s going to be key when it comes to traction. Read more on when to replace your forklift tires.

Another defense against slippery conditions and poor traction are tire chains. They’re available for solid pneumatic and air-filled pneumatic tires. Tire chains are not meant to be used on any dry, flat surfaces. You should only use them when the snow and ice make it dangerous to operate or when winter conditions cause inefficiency or reduced productivity.

Yet another route is tire studs which can be screwed into the tread of your solid pneumatics. They’ll help you gain traction in icy conditions. We tend to recommend tire studs with a solid carbide tip. They’re stronger and more durable.

Starting your LPG Forklift in the Cold

Even with all your maintenance and preparation, you still might have trouble starting your LPG forklift. Being able to quickly troubleshoot the problem can save time and money.

Listen to the sound coming from the machine when you try to start it. The noise it makes can be an indicator of what’s going wrong.

Do you hear the sound of a click rather than the engine turning over? If so, the cause of the failure to start is most likely the battery.

Test the voltage of the battery with a multimeter.

  • If the battery still has very little charge or has been completely discharged, put it on a low, extended charge. This will reduce the damage to the battery.

Replace the original battery with one that is fully charged while the original is charging, and attempt to start the machine again. Hopefully you’ll have no further issues and be able to get back to work.

  • If you don’t have a spare battery to replace the original discharged one, you may want to jump start it using a battery from another truck. To jump start the battery yourself, follow these tips. Otherwise you can consult your forklift dealer on next steps.
Do you hear the engine turning over as usual but it never catches? Or the engine turning over more slowly than normal? This could be caused by many issues.

Your no-start situation could be caused by the fuel, spark plugs, air, regulator or electrical system. We’d recommend you contact your forklift dealer to further identify the problem and provide a solution.

Safe Winter Forklift Operation

Winter weather presents a unique set of challenges for forklift operators. The balance between productivity and safety can be a difficult obstacle to overcome. Keep these winter safety tips in mind to reduce lost productivity due to the safety concerns of operating outside.

  • Slow down. Match your speed to the weather conditions. This will reduce your risk of losing control, sudden braking, and tip overs.

  • Watch building entrances. Slush can build up around entrances and inclines which makes them slippery.

  • Remove snow from the forks. Snow on the forks can cause your load to shift. Make sure your forks are clear and the load is secure.

  • Be aware of load placement. Pay attention to where you’re placing the load. Slippery conditions can cause the load to fall after you place it. Make sure you’re lowering the load onto a solid surface.

  • Have an adverse conditions plan. An adverse conditions plan dictates when visibility or temperatures are too low for safe operation. Make sure all your operators are aware of which conditions constitute a temporary halt in operation.

With the proper maintenance, the right tools for the job and guidance for your operators, you and your forklift fleet will be well prepared for the winter season.

Preparing Boom Lifts & Scissor Lifts for Winter

Like forklifts, your boom lifts and scissor lifts need some extra work if they’re going to be operating in winter weather this year. We’ll show you how to prepare your aerial lifts and operators for cold weather operation.

Aerial Lift Maintenance for Cold Weather Operation

Cold temperatures can have a negative effect on the life and performance of your aerial lift. Those creaks and groans you’re hearing are not indicators of peak performance. Let’s look at a few ways to prepare your boom lifts and scissor lifts to operate in the cold.

Low-Temperature Lubricant

Water can seep through seals and brushings on your aerial lift. The ice that forms can easily damage the moving parts of your machine. Use a low-temperature lubricant to grease the moving components. It’ll minimize the risks of water finding its way into the sensitive areas of your aerial lift.

Specialty Engine Oil

For operation in extremely cold temperatures you may want to consider switching to a cold climate oil. These oils are designed for sub-zero temperatures while your usual oil will lose stability as the temperature drops.

Batteries

Whether you’re using a battery-powered lift or not, make sure to keep the batteries charged. Discharged batteries and ones with low acid levels will freeze more easily.

Whenever possible, charge the batteries overnight. Make sure to move the machine inside to a warmer temperature to charge the batteries.

Hydraulic Fluid

You may have to change the hydraulic oil for your scissor or boom lift. It depends on the temperature you’re experiencing.

Find the hydraulic fluid temperature range chart in your service or maintenance manual and change the fluid as required. You can find Genie maintenance manuals here.

Cold Weather Packages

Many aerial lift manufacturers offer cold weather packages for your equipment. These packages include a variety of items hand-picked to improve your aerial lift’s cold weather operation.

A typical cold weather package could feature any of the following options:

  • Full synthetic engine oil
  • Battery blanket
  • Oil pan heater
  • Freeze plug heater
  • Hydraulic reservoir blanket
  • Auxiliary power unit battery blanket

Before operation let your aerial lift warm up. This gives the equipment time for the oil to flow through the system and heat up the hydraulic components. It’ll help your engine and transmission function better too.

Hydraulic oil heaters can accelerate the warm up process. Getting the right size heater with the right amount of heating elements is crucial, so you may want to refer to your aerial lift dealer.

Now that your aerial lift is prepped and warm, let’s get down to safe operation.

Safe Winter Aerial Lift Operation

As we all know, work doesn’t necessarily stop just because winter is here. However, the snow and ice that come along with winter represent a productivity and safety risk. Take a look at these winter aerial lift safety tips to keep operators safer in the air.

  • Remove snow and ice from the platform. If your boom lift is stored outside, be sure to remove the snow and ice that has inevitably accumulated overnight. We highly recommend covering the platform. A tarp will work but you can also purchase custom platform covers.

  • Check the wind speeds. Make sure you check the wind speeds before operating and know your aerial lift’s wind speed rating. It can be found in the operator’s manual and on the decals attached to the machine. Don’t operate in wind speeds that exceed 28 miles per hour.  Even if the wind speeds aren’t above 28 mph, strong or gusting winds can cause a tip over. Read more on your aerial lift’s wind speed ratings.

  • Watch for snow and ice on the ground. Be aware of your surroundings and check that your operating area is clear of debris and other hazards. Use caution around inclines. Even a small patch of ice on a slope can cause your scissor or boom lift to tip.

  • Keep an eye on the weather. Visibility can be impaired quickly, so if you can’t see activity on the ground, you should not be operating the boom lift. Discontinue operation until the weather has cleared enough for you to safely resume work.

Whether you’re operating a forklift, scissor lift or boom lift this winter, make sure your equipment is prepared and your operators are ready to take on the season.

Recommended Aerial Lift Reading: Common Aerial Lift Hazards and Safety Tips

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