Forklift hazards and risk controls

Guidance that explains hazards and risks that can arise from the use of forklifts. It is for employers, self-employed people and others with work health and safety duties.

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Forklift definition

Part 3.6 of the OHS Regulations covers high-risk work, including forklift operation. For Part 3.6, a forklift means a powered industrial truck equipped with:

  • a mast, and
  • elevating load carriage to which a pair of fork arms or other load-holding attachment is attached

This guidance is for powered industrial trucks that fit this definition. To reflect common use, the guidance refers to these powered industrial trucks as forklifts.

A forklift for Part 3.6 does not include:

  • a pedestrian-operated industrial truck
  • a pallet truck that is unable, by design, to raise its fork arms 900 mm or more above the ground
  • an order-picking forklift truck
  • a tractor fitted with a pair of fork arms or other load-holding attachment

Forklift hazards

Image shows a person prone on the ground in front of a forklift, another person appears to be running to assist.
Figure 1: Forklifts can cause serious injuries and fatalities to pedestrians.

Incidents, injuries and fatalities can occur when workplace hazards are not identified or when risks are not controlled. The following information describes common hazards associated with forklifts and their causes.

Collision with pedestrians

Forklifts can cause serious injuries and fatalities when they hit or crush pedestrians. These incidents usually occur when there is no physical separation between forklifts and pedestrians.

Common hazards include:

  • forklifts operating in areas where pedestrians are present
  • not having permanently fixed physical barriers
  • blind spots
  • corners with limited visibility
  • speed
  • forklifts operating in areas with low lighting

Collision with powered mobile plant

Forklifts colliding with other powered mobile plant can cause serious injuries to operators and others in the vicinity. Collisions can also damage plant. Common causes of collision include:

  • traffic management plans not being adequately developed or followed
  • forklifts and pedestrians sharing the same areas
  • travelling with loads raised, or loads obstructing the operator's view
  • protective devices such as audible and visible alarms not being installed or used to warn of other mobile plant
  • forklifts and other mobile plant operating in areas with restricted space
  • visual and audible communication systems not installed or used

Forklift instability and overturning

Instability can cause a forklift to roll sideways, tip forwards or tip backwards. Instability increases when a forklift travels:

  • around corners
  • at speed
  • up or down slopes or ramps or on a gradient outside the forklift manufacturer's recommendations
  • on uneven surfaces
  • with a raised load
  • with a load tilted
  • with an unstable load, such as:
    • liquid loads
    • loads suspended from chains or slings from a jib attachment, where the load can swing, fall or move

Other causes of instability include, for example, when:

  • an inappropriate attachment is used to suspend or lift a load
  • the load exceeds the safe working load limit capacity of the forklift and attachments
  • the load exceeds the load centre distance
  • the forklift mast hits overhead structures or equipment, such as cross-bridge racking, door lintels, lighting and sprinklers
  • carrying wide or long loads
  • towing, pushing or pulling loads
Illustration of a forklift leaning to one side up on two wheels, showing how unstable these vehicles can be.
Figure 2: Instability can cause a forklift to overturn.

Injuries and fatalities from tipping forklifts have resulted in prosecutions, including conviction under Victoria's workplace manslaughter laws. More information is available in WorkSafe's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings directory. The directory is on the WorkSafe website.

Forklift operator ejection

Forklift operators are at risk of being ejected from the forklift. Common causes of ejection include:

  • the operator's seat not being designed to prevent the operator from being ejected
  • restraints such as seat belts not being fitted, maintained or used
  • protective devices not being fitted or maintained to prevent the operator from being ejected

Falling object hazards

Palletised stock stored at heights and not secured is a hazard. It can become a falling object if the racking or stock is hit by the forklift or the fork arms. Stock stored at heights should be secured to the pallet. Securing stock will help to prevent objects from falling. Stock can be secured to pallets by wrapping or strapping.

Environmental hazards

The environment where forklifts operate can create additional hazards.

Many environmental hazards occur when petrol, diesel or gas forklifts operate indoors, causing a build-up of fumes such as carbon monoxide. Areas where this can occur include, for example, loading docks, shipping containers and cold stores.

Where forklifts operate outdoors, hazards include, for example, changes in surface condition and visibility because of rain, strong wind and other weather conditions.

Assess the risks in the environment where forklifts operate. Use appropriate controls to manage hazards and risks.

Forklift risk controls

Once hazards have been identified, risks associated with those hazards must be controlled. As an employer or self-employed person, you must control hazards and risks so far as is reasonably practicable. Controlling any risk associated with the use of a forklift in the workplace includes following the hierarchy of control.

Hierarchy of control

The hierarchy of control is a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. It ranks risk controls from the highest level of protection and reliability through to the lowest and least reliable. The following guidance explains the steps of the hierarchy of control. You must comply with the hierarchy of control, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Work through the hierarchy of control

To fulfill your duties as an employer or self-employed person you must eliminate any risk associated with forklifts. You must do this so far as is reasonably practicable. Where a risk cannot be eliminated, you must reduce the risk. You must reduce the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.

All employers and self-employed persons must work through the hierarchy of control to control the risks from using forklifts. Consider various control options and choose the controls that most effectively eliminate the hazard. If elimination is not reasonably practicable, you must choose controls that most effectively minimise the risks. Reducing the risk may involve a single control measure or a combination of different controls that work together to provide the highest level of reasonably practicable protection.

More information about the hierarchy of control is available on the WorkSafe website.

Traffic management plan

A traffic management plan is a system to protect people at the workplace from powered mobile plant.

A traffic management plan for forklifts should do the following:

  • Identify movement of forklifts within the workplace.
  • Identify hazards for forklifts in the workplace. Hazards include, for example, ground conditions, pathways, structures, no-go zones, plant-free zones, pedestrians and movement of other plant.
  • Identify how all pedestrians, including transport drivers, are protected from forklift movements.
  • Include illustrations of the layout of barriers, walkways, signs and general arrangements. The illustrations should warn and guide traffic around, past or through a worksite or temporary hazard.
  • Show how short-term work, mobile work and complex traffic situations will be managed.

A traffic management plan should include a diagram. The diagram should be displayed prominently at the site. The diagram should show:

  • forklift operating areas, travel paths, exclusion zones
  • pedestrian travel paths, including travel paths to facilities
  • pedestrian-only zones
  • driver safety zones
  • electrical and overhead structure no-go zones
Illlustration outlining a traffic management plan.
Figure 3: An example of a diagram from a traffic management plan. The diagram shows a truck parking area, forklift-only zones, driver safety zone, a forklift-only entrance, pedestrian entrance and physical barriers to protect pedestrians.

Review and revise the plan

Traffic plans require review and revision. Review and, if necessary, revise the traffic management plan when there is:

  • an incident involving a forklift
  • a change to tasks that involve forklifts
  • a change to how pedestrians are kept safe
  • a change to tasks involving other powered mobile plant in the workplace
  • a change in the workplace layout
  • a change to the traffic management plan
  • when requested to do so by an HSR

Consult with employees

As an employer you must consult about certain matters that affect employees or are likely to directly affect them. This means you must consult employees when reviewing or revising traffic management plans. You must also consult with independent contractors, labour hire workers and any HSRs. There are also consultation obligations between employers and labour hire providers who share occupational health and safety duties to labour hire workers.

Traffic management plan examples

  • Use exclusion zones with physical barriers to prevent forklifts from operating near:
    • amenities and dining facilities
    • entrances and exits
    • office areas
    • time clocks
  • Use exclusion zones with physical barriers to restrict forklifts or people from entering the zones. Barriers need to be fixed, as shown in Figure 5.
  • Use coloured zones and floor markings to show areas where powered mobile plant operates.
Illustration shows good separation between forklift and pedestrian zones, fully isolated with barriers and gates where pedestrians need to cross.
Figure 4: A pedestrian and forklift separation system using fixed barriers and gates.

As well as physically separating people and forklifts, also consider:

  • speed limiting devices
  • pedestrian-sensing equipment
  • signs
  • audio and visual warnings
  • eliminating blind corners from the workplace
  • high-visibility clothing on employees and site visitors

Inform employees and visitors about the traffic management plan. Visitors may need to be accompanied when walking through the workplace.

Illustration shows a driver safety zone.
Figure 5: An example of a driver safety zone where truck drivers can wait during loading and unloading.

Driver safety zones

Ensure truck drivers are a safe distance from trucks and forklifts during loading and unloading. Provide driver safety zones with fixed physical barriers where truck drivers can wait. Examples of physical barriers include high-impact barriers, bollards or steel railings. Locate the driver safety zones so drivers can see their trucks being loaded or unloaded.

The WorkSafe website has more information on traffic management plans. It also has information on improving safety through workplace layout and design.

Loading and unloading areas

Ensure the operating procedures for loading and unloading areas keep pedestrians out of the areas. Ensure forklift operators are trained in safe operating procedures. The traffic management plan and safe operating procedures need to include pedestrian and transport driver safety, travel paths and visibility.

Speed limits

  • Review and set the maximum travel speed for forklifts. Take other powered plant and pedestrians into consideration.
  • Consider fitting speed-limiting devices. Where practicable, limit the speed of forklifts so they cannot exceed the speed limits in the traffic management plan.
  • Display maximum speed limits. Enforce speed limits and ensure operators observe limits.
  • Review the placement of speed limit signs. Ensure forklift operators can easily see the signs.
  • If forklifts are operated in areas where pedestrians may be present, limit forklift speed to walking pace, 5–7 km/h.

Performance incentives are common in warehouses. However, they may encourage speeding and other unsafe behaviour when using forklifts. Avoid performance incentives that may encourage speeding.

Driving on public roads

Where a forklift needs to operate on a public road:

  • the forklift must be registered with the relevant road authority and have number plates
  • the operator must have a high-risk work licence (HRWL) as well as a current car licence to drive on the road
  • ensure workplace procedures set out the safe work procedures for operating a forklift on public roads
  • identify hazards such as overhead powerlines and pedestrians walking on footpaths, designated smoking areas and the travel paths of mobile plant and trucks

Seatbelts in forklifts

Employers must eliminate the risk of an operator being ejected from powered mobile plant. This includes forklifts. As an employer, you must eliminate the risk so far as is reasonably practicable. If you cannot eliminate the risk, you must reduce it so far as is reasonably practicable.

To control the risk of an operator being ejected you must provide appropriate protective devices. Again, you must do this so far as is reasonably practicable. Operator protective devices include seatbelts.

As an employer, you must also ensure operators use protective devices. This includes seat belts. You must do this so far as is reasonably practicable. To help you fulfil your duties, instruct supervisors and team leaders to monitor forklift operators to ensure they wear seatbelts.

Sequential interlocking seatbelts

Australian Standards have required sequential interlocking seatbelts in new forklifts since 2013. Sequential interlocking seatbelts prevent forklifts from starting or moving unless the operator is first seated and then buckled in, in that order. If the two steps are not completed or are done out of order, the forklift will not start. Sequential interlocking seatbelts are readily available and can be retrofitted to an existing forklift.

Remain seated

If a forklift overturns, the operator should remain seated in the forklift, with arms and legs inside the cage. An operator jumping from an overturning forklift is at risk of being crushed.

Reach trucks

Reach truck operators usually stand or sit sideways at the rear of the reach truck. Seat belts are not normally fitted or used.

Although seat belts may not be required, you must still control risks from reach truck use. You must eliminate the risks so far as reasonably practicable. If you cannot eliminate the risks, you must reduce them so far as reasonably practicable.

Forklifts without seats

5 signs showing sequential seatbelt process - 1. Park brake on. 2. Sit on seat. 3. Seatbelt - on. 4. Ignition - on. 5. Forklift can be started.
Figure 6: An example of a label on a forklift to show the procedure for using a sequential interlocking seatbelt.

Not all forklifts have seats. On some forklifts the operator has to stand on the forklift to operate it. Therefore, a seat belt is not required. However, as an employer you still have a duty to provide, maintain and use appropriate operator protective devices. You must do this so far as is reasonably practicable.

Safety-enhancing features

Illustration shows a reversing forklift across 2 perpendicular shelving racks. 2 pedestrians are walking between the racks and the forklift has pedestrian detection.
Figure 7: Pedestrian-detection systems and automatic braking are among safety-enhancing features available for forklifts.

Use controls to ensure safe operation of the forklift. Controls must protect both the operator and other people in the vicinity. They must do this so far as is reasonably practicable. There are many safety-enhancing features available for forklifts. If they are not fitted, consider retrofitting safety-enhancing features, where reasonably practicable. Be aware that retrofitting safety features could introduce new hazards and risks. Those hazards and risks must be controlled, so far as is reasonably practicable. Where possible, consult with the manufacturer or supplier when retrofitting safety features.

Safety-enhancing features include:

  • sequential interlocking seatbelts, required by Australian Standards since 2013
  • pedestrian detection systems and automatic braking
  • visibility assistance, for example, mirrors and cameras that can monitor around the forklift and monitor the operator
  • perimeter zone warning lights
  • automatic speed reduction zones
  • slowing electric forklifts when the mast is elevated
  • dynamic stability control to improve the forklift’s stability during braking and manoeuvering
  • impact monitoring sensors
  • labels and markings on the mast that indicate the point where capacity changes at a given lift height, as shown on the information plate
  • mechanical or electronic limit switches or proximity sensors that stop the fork carriage at defined shelf heights
  • weighing equipment to reduce overloading

Note: Using the listed safety-enhancing features does not remove the safety responsibility of the operator.

Further information

WorkSafe

Safety alerts

Legislation

Industry and standards

The following standards include information relevant to the use and operation of forklifts. If a standard has been superseded, refer to the updated document.

  • AS 1319:1994 - Safety signs for the occupational environment.
  • AS/NZS 1596:2014 - The storage and handling of LP Gas.
  • AS/NZS 1680 (series) - Interior and workplace lighting.
  • AS 1742 (series) - Manual of uniform traffic control devices.
  • AS 1763:1985 - Industrial trucks – Glossary of terms.
  • AS 1940:2017 (series) - The storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids.

Related pages

This information is from WorkSafe's Forklift safety guidebook. The complete guide is available in two formats.

Website version PDF guidebook