Work practices to control risks from forklifts

This guidance explains work practices to control risks from forklifts. It is for employers and self-employed people. The guidance 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

Use safe systems of work

Safe systems of work are necessary when using forklifts. Safe systems of work help ensure tasks are carried out safely. Changes in work practices may be necessary to control risks to employees, other people and equipment. Follow the hierarchy of control to control risks.

The following guidance describes common work practices to control risks.

Work practices in forklift operating areas

Safe work practices are necessary wherever forklifts operate. Safe work practices will help ensure each task is done safely. If work practices change, the traffic management plan needs to be reviewed and revised. The plan also needs to be reviewed and revised if the workplace layout changes. Review and revise in consultation with employees, including independent contractors and labour hire workers, and any HSRs.

Illustration of 3 loading docks with gates in front of each dock.

Docks and dock levellers

Fit raised edges on loading docks where there is a risk of a forklift going over an edge. Where reasonably practicable, install physical barriers to prevent forklifts from driving off docks. See Figure 1. Introduce controls to prevent transport vehicles from leaving the dock area too soon. Ensure the base of the loading dock is flush with the floor. This will help prevent the fork arms or load from hitting the dock.

Figure 1: Loading docks with fixed barriers and gates for when the docks are not in use.

Pushing, pulling or towing with a forklift

Using forklifts to push, pull or tow a load can exceed the capacity of the forklift's components.

Pushing, pulling or towing a load above the forklift's capacity can:

  • damage the forklift
  • lead to the malfunction or failure of parts
  • put people in the vicinity at risk of being struck by uncontrolled loads or forklift parts

Use purpose-designed attachments or equipment for pushing, pulling or towing. For example, a powered tug.

Purpose-designed forklift attachments need to:

  • be assessed by the manufacturer or a suitably competent person, such as an engineer
  • pass assessment to ensure the forklift can safely tow, pull or push the loads without damaging the forklift

The forklift's information plate needs to provide details about attachments, including towing attachments. For example, maximum towed capacity, drawbar pull and downward force on drawbar.

Multiple forklift use

As an employer or self-employed person, you have duties under the OHS Regulations. One of those duties is to ensure no load is lifted simultaneously by more than one piece of plant. This means you must ensure only one forklift at a time lifts a load. You must fulfil this duty so far as is reasonably practicable. If a load is not appropriate for just one forklift to lift, use purpose-designed equipment instead. For example, a mobile crane.

Illustration shows a mezzanine pallet loading gate.

Mezzanine floors

Upper-level floors need barriers to prevent falls. The barrier might have an opening to allow loading of palletised goods. In this case, the opening needs a self-acting gate to prevent a person from falling. For example, when the front section of a dual-gate system opens, the rear gate closes.

Figure 2: A mezzanine pallet-loading gate.

Designated refuelling or recharging zones

Locate refuelling or recharging zones in a separate area. Ensure zones are away from pedestrians.

Basic requirements for refuelling and recharging zones include emergency equipment such as:

  • emergency eyewash
  • spill kits
  • fire-fighting equipment

Australian Standards AS 2402.1.2 and AS 2402.2.2 set out detailed guidelines for safe battery handling and charging.

Locate emergency equipment near the refuelling and recharging station in a well-ventilated area. Protect equipment such as battery chargers from forklift movements. For example, install high-impact barriers.

Forklifts with LPG cylinders

For forklifts with LPG cylinders:

  • Only fill, exchange or store LPG cylinders at locations set aside for that purpose.
  • Ensure only trained and authorised persons recharge or exchange LPG cylinders.
  • Provide gloves for people changing cylinders to control the risk of freeze burns.
  • Do not store LPG cylinders upside down, even when empty.
  • Ensure LPG cylinders fitted to forklifts are in the correct position with the safety valve at the top and the cylinder secured. An arrow or the word 'top' indicates the top of the cylinder.

Electric forklifts

For electric forklifts:

  • Ensure only trained and authorised persons charge and change batteries.
  • Ensure charging and changing take place at locations designed for that purpose. It is best to use a charger that can charge the battery while it remains in the forklift.
  • Provide the forklift-charging instructions and ensure they are followed. Some forklifts may require the battery vents to be opened. Forklifts may also have instructions on how to charge the batteries and the precautions to take.
  • Prevent the risk of tripping and ensure power leads are not left on the floor.

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