Forklift selection and planning

Guidance on this page may help with decisions about using and choosing a forklift to lift and move loads. The guidance is for employers and self-employed people. It may also benefit others with work health and safety duties.


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

Assessment will help with decision

Tasks that involve moving awkward, bulky and heavy loads need to be assessed. Assessment will help determine the correct and safest method to lift and move loads. An assessment should occur during the task planning phase.

Your assessment may reveal that a forklift should not be used because of risks with the task. Instead, other forms of load-shifting plant should be used, such as, for example, a mobile crane.

Alternatively, your assessment may confirm that using a forklift is the safest way to perform the task. In this case, it is important to identify the most appropriate type of forklift to do the work safely.

Ensure forklift is suitable

When selecting a forklift to use in the workplace, ensure it is suitable for:

  • the loads to be lifted and moved
  • the site conditions
  • the operator's knowledge, skills and abilities
  • controlling the identified hazards and risks

Do not base a decision to use a specific forklift solely on the availability of a particular forklift. Review information from the forklift manufacturer and supplier. Reviewing information will help ensure you understand the forklift’s capabilities and limitations. It will help ensure the forklift is appropriate for the task. The review should occur before buying, hiring or leasing a forklift. The same review process applies when buying a second-hand forklift.

Note: As an employer, you must consult with employees and any health and safety representatives (HSRs) before changing the workplace, work practices or plant used at the workplace. Plant includes forklifts. You must consult so far as is reasonably practicable.

Forklift selection factors

Following is a list of common factors to consider during the forklift selection process. This is not an exhaustive list. It should be read together with the information in this guidance.

Factors to consider when selecting a forklift include:

  • combustion or electric engine
    • combustion engines produce exhaust emissions, so it might be necessary to consider ventilation of the fumes from enclosed areas
  • where the forklift will be used, such as indoors or outdoors
  • weight of loads
  • type of load, for example, height, width, liquid
  • lifting heights
  • loading or unloading from trailers
  • accessories, such as scales
  • attachments you intend to use
  • extreme temperatures
  • safety enhancement features, such as person-sensing devices and sequential interlocking seatbelts
  • load centre distance

Worksite considerations

Consider the following information and apply it to your workplace.

Pedestrian safety

Are systems in place to physically separate pedestrians from forklifts? Consider, for example, the following:

  • How will pedestrians and forklifts be physically separated? For example, will there be physical barriers?
  • Does access to facilities require pedestrians to cross forklift travel routes?
  • Can changes in the way work is done eliminate the need for forklifts?
  • Is it possible to design a hazard out of the workplace?
Image shows areas where the forklifts operating are fenced off from pedestrian access areas.
Figure 1: Example of a workplace layout with pedestrians physically separated and protected from forklift movements.

Overhead obstructions

Are there overhead obstructions the forklift mast could hit? Consider the height of the forklift with a raised load. Is it possible to eliminate the risk of the forklift hitting overhead obstructions? If the risk cannot be eliminated, can it be reduced?

Overhead obstructions include:

  • emergency sprinkler systems
  • powerlines
  • doorways and roller doors
  • racking
  • building structures
  • roof trusses
  • containers

Aisle and racking

Are the aisles and racking appropriate for use with a forklift? Consider the following, for example:

  • Is the aisle wide enough if one or more forklifts need to operate in it?
  • Are safe load limit signs clearly displayed on racking?
  • Is the racking capacity suitable for the load?
  • Is there impact protection around the racking base to protect it from forklift impact? For example, protective barriers.
  • Are palletised goods secured to the pallets they are on? For example, with the use of strapping or shrink wrap.
  • Do racking bays have mesh backings to prevent loads being pushed into the next aisle?
  • Is the racking height appropriate for the loads being stored? Does the racking height need to be lowered or raised?
3 racking solutions with barriers and guards.
Figure 2: Three examples of racking with protective barriers around the bases.

Forklift operation areas

Safety improvements may be necessary to control risks in areas where forklifts operate. Consider, for example:

  • ventilation and whether it is appropriate for the forklift being used
  • where forklifts will unload and load, for example, shipping containers, trailers, delivery vehicles
  • staging areas, warehouses
  • manufacturing and order picking areas
  • physically separate warehousing from manufacturing
  • delivery of loads to and from production areas
  • eliminating blind corners, particularly around stacked stock
  • creating designated truck driver safety zones and pedestrian-only zones
  • dedicated refuelling and recharging facilities, including fuel storage areas
  • the ground or structure the forklift will operate on and whether it can bear the imposed loads
  • the surfaces the forklift will operate on, for example, condition, terrain, ramps, sloped surfaces
  • the height of overhead obstructions
  • weight restrictions, for example, on suspended floors

Buying, hiring or leasing a forklift

When buying, hiring or leasing a forklift, ensure it comes with all required safety features. These include, for example, sequential interlocking seatbelts, visibility assistance and pedestrian detection. When a specific forklift is out of service, seek a temporary like-for-like replacement. If the replacement forklift is a different model, do a full risk assessment before using it. Provide operators with the necessary information, instruction, training and supervision to operate the forklift safely.

Second-hand forklifts

Before buying a second-hand forklift, review the forklift's maintenance, inspection and use history. The forklift should be inspected and serviced before it is used. This is to ensure the forklift is safe to operate and functions in line with the manufacturer's specifications.

There can be additional costs to bring a second-hand forklift into a serviceable condition. They include, for example, the cost of:

  • replacing damaged seats and seat belts
  • replacing information plates
  • adding and updating safety features
  • repairing electrical problems
  • repairing mechanical defects
  • repairing structural defects, such as fatigue cracking

Further information


Safety alerts


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