Forklifts, or industrial lift trucks, are used to lift, stack and transfer loads in warehouses, factories, shipping yards, freight terminals and other workplaces.
They offer a practical materials handling solution, however each year forklifts continue to be associated with workplace injuries and deaths.
While forklifts are compact and manoeuvrable, they can become unstable when carrying loads.
Fully laden, a standard 2-tonne forklift can weigh approximately 5 tonnes.
Even at low speeds, forklifts can cause serious injuries. It’s not just the operator who can be injured: pedestrians, especially other workers and visitors, can also be struck by a forklift or its load if traffic areas are uncontrolled.
Where container forklifts are used, such as in shipping yards and freight terminals, additional risks exist.
The human and financial cost of forklift-related incidents for workers, industry and the community is substantial.
Incidents can be prevented, especially when workers and Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs) work together to improve health and safety outcomes at work.
Breaking the workplace injury chain at an early stage is achievable, through effective work health and safety management, strong leadership and a commitment from everyone to make work as safe as it can be.
A big difference can be achieved by the adoption of simple, safe practices such as:
- observing speed limits and warning signs
- wearing correctly fitted seat belts
- slowing down
- sounding the horn at an intersection or when others are around.
The risk of forklift-related injuries can be reduced by having:
- a safe work environment
- safe systems of work
- effective worker induction and training
- safe and well-maintained machinery
- a pedestrian and traffic management plan
- policies and procedures, such as for pre- and post-operation checking of forklifts and the workplace, using attachments, carrying loads)
- adequate information and supervision
- good record keeping
- an incident reporting process, including for near misses.
Other issues you might consider include:
- managing fatigue
- manual handling
- battery charging
- fumes and gases
Finding safety solutions can be as simple as asking your workers for their ideas. However, safe behaviours should not be seen as the main means of injury prevention.
Safety solutions that rely on administrative controls such as procedures, training, high levels of supervision and monitoring for success need effort and attention to maintain them.
Engineering, design and physical changes, such as an improved workplace layout and similar permanent control measures, are much more effective and sustainable solutions.
Look at what others are doing well, ask for help from an industry association or group, get information from suppliers or manufacturers, and check relevant Codes of Practice, Australian Standards and guidance material, such as:
- Code of Practice – Managing Risks of Plant in the Workplace [link to COP page]
- Australian Standard AS 2359.6: Powered industrial trucks
- Australian Standard AS/NZS 1891: Industrial fall-arrest systems and devices
- General Guide for Industrial Lift Trucks – Safe Work Australia
- General Guide for Workplace Traffic Management – Safe Work Australia
- Forklifts information sheet for owners and operators – Safe Work Australia
- High Risk Work: Forklift work platforms
- LUEZ: Loading, Unloading Exclusion Zones Guidelines.
Forklift operators must be 18 years of age to hold a Licence to Perform High Risk Work which allows them to operate a forklift.
Before applying for this licence, they must undertake training and assessment with a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) and their respective Accredited Assessor.
When you operate and/or drive a forklift on a public road you must hold a both a current driver’s and a Licence to Perform High Risk Work. The forklift must also be registered.