Forklift truck modifications are offered by many companies but they are far from risk free, as BITA Secretary-General James Clark explains.

BITA Secretary-General James Clark.

Forklift modifications are often seen as a way of extending the life of a truck, or enhancing its capabilities – but they can have consequences for health and safety as well as invalidation of warranties.

A recent presentation to our Truck Suppliers’ Group (TSG) demonstrated the risks and dangers behind unauthorised modifications, as the assessment and implementation of truck modifications is a skilled task requiring detailed and specialised knowledge.

Modifications which aren’t factory approved may affect capacity, stability or safety requirements and companies making modifications don’t realise the consequences, or are not aware of their responsibilities and liabilities, should something go wrong.

There is a very clear standard for the safety requirements of industrial trucks, BS EN ISO 3691-1:2015, which states in paragraph that ‘unauthorised truck modification is not permitted’.

However only the most cursory web search is required to identify companies advertising modification changes to forklift trucks, as if this were normal practice and presented no safety hazards whatsoever.

But it isn’t only BITA that is concerned about this. Our fellow industry body the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA) also has its concerns: “This is an important industry-wide issue, and is especially important when trucks are leased,” said Peter Harvey MBE, FLTA Chief Executive.

“Unauthorised modifications or repairs – even changing tyres – could invalidate rental contracts or manufacturer warranties, leaving users to foot repair bills. So it is crucial that those utilising lift trucks understand what they can and cannot do. Failure to do so puts them at risk of unexpected repair bills and much more.”

Examples of modifications we have seen being offered include mast reductions, drive-in racking modifications, and perhaps most disturbingly, truck head guard modifications. Our TSG has been provided with some examples of real concern:

• A cab-pillar section was removed and re-welded as part of a drive in racking modification. Without knowledge of the material grade used in manufacture, it would be difficult or impossible to certify the welding and it is extremely doubtful whether the modification would pass an ISO 6055 impact test

• A counterbalance truck fitted with extended 15ft-long forks, dangerously reducing stability

• Fork-mounted ‘safe’ access platforms, advertised as though permitted for routine use

• Hoists mounted to overhead guards, reducing strength, impeding operator visibility, and applying loads outside the design limits

In addition to these examples more ‘informal’ modifications, such as adding additional weight (in the form of drums full of water or toolboxes filled with concrete) to increase the lifting capacity of counterbalance trucks, have also been identified.

We’re sure there are more examples out there, and those undertaking such work should understand that they may have inadvertently taken on the responsibilities of being the equipment manufacturer, with all the risks of prosecution and redress this entails.