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How to Inspect Forklift Chains & Know When to Replace Them

by Jim Hodson on March 14, 2017
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how to inspect forklift chains when to replace themForklift chains lift thousands of pounds every day. If a forklift chain should fail, both the operator and any personnel nearby are in danger of serious injury and even death from the dropped load. Forklift chain inspection is part of OSHA’s pre-operation inspection for forklifts, but some damage can be easily missed. In today’s post, we’ll review what kind of damage to look for when inspecting forklift chains and identifying when the chain should be replaced.

How Long Do Forklift Chains Last?

In a single-shift operation, where lifting is done on an even surface, a forklift’s chains can last three to five years. But it’s still important to inspect the chains on a newer forklift as environmental factors such as dust, rain and industrial chemicals cause chains to break down.

6 Signs a Forklift Chain Needs to be Replaced:

  • Protruding or Turned Pins: The pins in your forklift chain are critical, they hold the entire load! Lack of lubrication can cause the pins to twist out of place resulting in chain failure. Forklift chains should be completely lubricated at all times (with SAE 30 motor oil or equivalent). 
  • Plate cracking: Cracks occur for a variety of reasons: stress, corrosion, environmental conditions, or the chain lifting a greater load that it was designed to handle. If a crack or enlarge holes are discovered in the plates, take the forklift out of service until the chain can be replaced.
  • Misalignment: Enlarged holes on the outside plates are one indicator of misalignment. Also, if you notice the heads of the pins holding the plates of the chain together are worn down, this is another sign the chain is misaligned.

    Continuing to operate a forklift with a misaligned chain damages both the chain and sheaves. When a chain runs over a sheave, it wears down on one side and becomes asymmetrical. Eventually, the chain will fail.

  • More than Three Percent Elongation or Wear: Using a chain gauge, measure wear and elongation on your forklift’s chain (we recommend having a certified technician do this inspection). Elongation greater than three percent means it’s time to retire the chain. Three percent may not sound like much, but a three percent elongation translates to a 15 percent reduction in chain strength.

The last two are “no brainers”:

  • Broken Links: Dropping a load or operating the lift truck on an uneven surface can cause chain links to break. Any chain with broken links should not be used.
  • Rust and corrosion: Similarly, a lift truck with chains showing any rust or corrosion should be taken out of service until a new chain is installed.

Inspecting the chains should be part of the operator’s daily inspection, but it’s a good idea to have a professional assessment done once a year. Forklift chains endure extreme stress during operation, and chain failure is a calamity every business should try to avoid.

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Topics: Forklift FAQs, Forklift Maintenance

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