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Looking after the forklift fleet properly is good for safety – and good for the bottom line. But what are the important considerations? 

Investing in a new fleet of forklifts can improve efficiency and reduce costs, but those benefits can be lost all too quickly if the operator does not have an effective service and maintenance regime in place.

But it’s not just efficiency – badly maintained equipment can be a safety hazard. “The HSE recommend that all companies who operate materials handling equipment ensure trucks are regularly maintained, repaired and inspected,” points out Ian Halliday, service sales account manager at Toyota Material Handling UK.

The best way to ensure this and to stay legal is to carry out daily checks and have a schedule of planned preventative maintenance in place to ensure that equipment continues to work productively and safely, according to Halliday.

“Material handling equipment, including forklifts are similar to cars, in that they have a manufacturer’s recommended service interval, which is generally determined by the hour clock reading. The interval can vary by model and make but this is the initial determiner of the service interval, but other factors need to be considered.

Environment (cold stores, wet, harsh chemicals) and application working environment including factors like floors can also determine the service interval.

“Companies need to work closely with their service provider to develop a schedule that suits the truck and the operation and ensure trucks remain working safe and legal. This may include service visits, preventative maintenance and Thorough Examination. 

Legal requirements

“Having the correct service and Thorough Examination schedule will ensure trucks work reliably, safely and satisfy the legal requirements of both PUWER98 and LOLER98 legislation.

Ian Halliday says: “It is also important for companies to consider the different types of equipment they have on-site. Manual hand pallet trucks are often considered to be a disposable item that can easily be replaced, but to ensure these work safely and avoid the need to replace as often, these trucks should also have regular service visits as they are also subject to the LOLER98 lift truck regulations.

Paul Thynne, national service manager at Briggs Equipment, highlights the importance of operating hours and site application in determining maintenance strategies. “If the site application is dusty, for example, then the operator should consider reducing the hours between services to increase the frequency of service.”

Proactive maintenance is important as it will reduce potential safety risks, equipment downtime and maintenance costs, says Thynne.

Halliday describes proactive maintenance as “paramount, as it increases reliability, keeps costs low by capturing potential problems early and increases the life span of equipment. But, more importantly, preventative maintenance can help to protect employees on site.

“In addition to planned maintenance the HSE recommend companies carry out daily checks. Daily checks can help to identify and resolve issues quickly. Toyota provides daily check sheet templates from their web site. Daily checks (also known as pre-operator checks) can also be included in Toyota I_Site fleet management, which prevents truck operators from using trucks until checks have been carried out.

Jonathan Morris, sales director at Jungheinrich UK, says: “There has been a clear trend among retailers and 3PLs towards sourcing forklift truck fleets from organisations that are not only capable of supplying a full line-up of products – from counterbalance to warehouse machines – but who can also demonstrate that they have the infrastructure in place to be able to guarantee the highest levels of service and forklift fleet management.

“Of course, the leading forklift truck manufacturers have always sold and serviced their products either directly or through a network of regional and, in some instances national, independent dealers.

“In the UK and across the rest of Europe, there are literally thousands of independently owned forklift dealerships who will gladly supply you with a lift truck and undertake to maintain it throughout its working life. The majority are highly professional and well-run organisation, but some of them, most definitely are not,” says Morris.

“The advantage of using a material handling manufacturer as a service provider is the continual support they are able to provide,” says Halliday. 

Specific product training

“Their service technicians are given specific product training, for example all Toyota technicians have to undertake thorough training and on-going training is provided for all new products. In addition to this Toyota service technicians have access to all the latest repair and parts manuals. All field service technicians have been issued with iPads to enable them to access information on site and order genuine parts quickly and easily, plus they carry stock on their van to enable quick repairs.

“The main problem, companies often experience with in-house maintenance is ensuring full cover can be provided. If they only have a small team or one person who can carry out maintenance, holiday and sickness, or additional support at peak periods can be difficult.

“Often outsourced companies can have greater access to resources and provide 24/7 support. Companies need to consider the demands of their operation, the skills of their team and decide on the best option for their business. At Toyota we have a dedicated service development team who can discuss the options with you to help you make an informed decision and look at options like; resident site technicians or providing 24 hour service support.”

The recession has resulted in some organisations lengthening fleet replacement periods. In these circumstances, service and maintenance becomes more important, as parts begin to wear. Halliday points out that if equipment has been subject to the correct service and preventative maintenance, this can be a good option for customers. The ability to extend the fleet replacement period can depend on a number of factors including, the quality of the truck(s), truck history and condition and the type of operation. “If a customer chooses to extend their replacement they should work with their service provider to review their site and the service requirements.”

Thynne agrees that lengthening fleet replacement periods should not be a problem “if the equipment has been maintained correctly and not extended past its overall serviceable life cycle”.

“As part of the preventive maintenance programme the manufacture component service life cycle should be reviewed and a replacement programme implemented. By doing so, this ensures components are replaced before they fail in service, resulting in breakdowns and unplanned downtime,” he says. The single most important thing a truck operator can do in terms of service and maintenance is to complete daily operator checks and report any faults immediately to their service provider, says Thynne. 

Stakeholder groups

Halliday says: “There are two stakeholder groups to consider here. Truck operators (in terms of the drivers) should carry out regular (daily and weekly) checks to ensure trucks are working well. They need to carry out the checks, but also understand what they need to do if there is an issue. It is important to communicate the process and make contact details highly visible for all truck drivers so they can report faults or damage immediately.

“The best thing a company can do in relation to service and maintenance is to work with their service provider to identify the best schedule and regularly review the site and operation using information from the service provider, to improve site efficiency and safety. For example at Toyota we can provide I_Site reports that identify KPIs including truck utilisation, out of contract costs and number of breakdowns. These can help you to identify areas for improvement like damage hot spots, driver training needs or truck rotation.”

Jungheinrich’s Morris points out that for logistics and procurement directors tasked with selecting a truck supplier capable of providing both a quality product and a reliable service and after-sales support package can be a deal-breaker.

“Dealing with a forklift truck manufacturer that retains ownership of its downward supply chain by taking the direct route to market ensures that a uniform standard of service is achieved across the fleet. It is also worth remembering that those forklift truck manufacturers who sell through dealers are wholly reliant on the quality of each particular dealer partner and, for international clients seeking to establish pan-European or even global lift truck fleets, the fact that a manufacturer has no clear control over the way its dealers perform can be further cause for concern. After all, can the client be sure that the level of service and after-sales support provided by the forklift manufacturer’s long established Germany-based distributor will be matched by that offered by the newly appointed dealer in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”


Pros and cons of outsourcing: 


  • Cost savings including:
  • Staff wages and benefits (such as pension, medical, vacation)
  • Management of staff sickness
  • Staff training needs are reduced
  • Holiday cover is the responsibility of the third party supplier
  • Overtime working costs
  • Flexibility in use special services and skills
  • Consistent productivity
  • Staff competency
  • Recruitment is managed by the third party
  • HR activity is significantly reduced
  • Tooling, equipment and technology is supplied by the third party
  • Management is able to focus on its core business activity


  • Perceived loss of management control
  • Flexibility of in-house working patterns
  • Management styles and attitudes which can lead to conflict with third party supplier
  • Potential for a reduction in staff loyalty
  • Potential for an increase in staff turnover

            Source: Briggs Equipment

Originally printed in Logistics Manager 10/2014


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