In October 2018, a worker was killed when the forklift he was operating tipped over and pinned him. The experienced operator was moving a load into an industrial shed. The forklift's mast collided with an overhead steel beam, causing the forklift to tip over onto its side pinning the operator. It appears the operator may not have been wearing a seat belt. Investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Forklifts are one of the most hazardous workplace vehicles and are frequently found in warehouses, workshops and factories. People working with or around them often become complacent because they are quiet, in frequent use and part of the environment. However, incidents involving forklifts are usually serious and often fatal.
- forklifts are operated in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions
- operators hold a current high risk work licence to operate the forklift
- operators wear a seatbelt and do not place body parts outside of the forklift or reach through the mast while it is operating
- passengers are not carried on the forklift unless it is designed to carry more than one person and a designated passenger seat, seatbelt and foot rest is provided
- operators are properly trained and supervised on the specific traffic management plan for the workplace.
Driving with a raised load is dangerous. It makes the forklift less stable and it can tip over, particularly if being driven at speed, around a corner, or on an uneven surface.
Tipping over is the biggest danger for a forklift operator. If an operator jumps from a tipping forklift, the chances of serious injury are high. Seatbelts save lives and must be worn. A forklift can tip over by rolling or overturning sideways, or by pitching forward when the back wheels lift off the ground. Forklifts can tip over if you:
- accelerate quickly in reverse
- brake too quickly, especially when loaded
- brake or accelerate while cornering, or down a slope
- collide with another vehicle
- overload them
- use unsuitable attachments
- cause the mast to collide with a structure.
- conduct a risk assessment of the area to determine which forklift is suitable
- consult with forklift operators about hazards at each particular workplace and consider those hazards as part of a risk assessment
- buy or hire forklifts with seatbelts, reversing beepers, flashing lights, intelligent systems, speed-limiting devices, load-weighing devices and other stability-enhancing features
- ensure seatbelts are correctly fitted and worn.
If an intelligent system is installed, the forklift can only be started if the seatbelt is fastened. Monitoring and supervision of these intelligent systems should be such that they cannot be easily or deliberately defeated. Seatbelts may be retro-fitted, but only in accordance with the manufacturer's specifications.
Forklift operators should:
- use the forklift truck only for the purpose for which it was designed
- hold a high risk work licence to operate a forklift truck or be an authorised trainee
- wear a seatbelt if one is fitted. The only exception is if a risk assessment advises otherwise—for example when operating a forklift truck on a wharf
- ensure that loads are within the rated load capacity of the forklift truck and carry them as close to the ground as possible
- operate the forklift truck with the load placed fully against the truck carriage or back rest. The mast should be tilted sufficiently backward to safeguard the load
- only use attachments approved by the forklift manufacturer
- maintain a clear view ahead and behind (via a correctly adjusted rear view mirror) and give clear indication of your intentions. Maintain a safe distance from other vehicles
- observe speed limits and ensure you can make a safe stop at any time. Avoid rapid acceleration, deceleration and quick turns
- reduce speed when making a turn. Take care that the tip of the fork (or load) or the rear side of the forklift truck does not touch a nearby person or object
- never park or leave the forklift in any doorway, entrance, emergency exit or in front of fire extinguishing equipment
- ensure loading ramps are properly secured prior to unloading or loading the forklift.
Since 2012 there has been an average of 430 accepted workers' compensation claims for injuries involving forklifts each year. Forty per cent of these involve serious injuries with five or more days off work. The most common injury mechanism involving forklifts is sprains and strains from sitting, or getting in or out of the forklift. The next most common mechanism is being hit by a forklift or its load.
During the same period, there have been 138 notified incidents involving workers or bystanders being struck by, run over or trapped by a forklift.
Prosecutions and compliance
In December 2016, a company was fined $35,000 after a worker was crushed by a pallet being moved by a forklift. The worker was kneeling down to remove a product from another pallet when he was struck, resulting in broken ribs. The defendant was prosecuted for failing to monitor adequate traffic management procedures for moving plant and pedestrians.
In August 2013, a large truck manufacturing business was fined $35,000 after a forklift reversed into a worker resulting in multiple fractures to his lower left leg. The magistrate also imposed a recognisance of $50,000 for one year.
- High Risk Work - A guide to forklift safety
- Forklift safety for employers: maintenance (PDF, 0.35 MB)
- Forklift safety for employers: traffic management (PDF, 0.53 MB)
- Understanding a forklift's load capacity (PDF, 0.41 MB)
- Operating forklift trucks safely
- Managing the Risk of Plant in the Workplace Code of Practice 2021 (PDF, 1.57 MB)
- How to manage work health and safety risks Code of Practice 2011 (PDF, 1.02 MB)
- Traffic management - information sheet
- Traffic management guide - general
- Traffic management guide - warehousing