In August 2023, a worker died when he became trapped between a forklift and a vehicle hoist. Early investigations found that the worker moved in behind a forklift to assist in adjusting chains. It seems the forklift operator reversed the forklift trapping the worker between the rear of the forklift and a vehicle hoist.
These findings are not yet confirmed, and investigations are continuing into the exact cause.
Forklifts are a practical material handling solution. However, they are also one of the most hazardous workplace vehicles. Forklifts are frequently found in warehouses, workshops, and factories. People working with or around them often become complacent because the vehicles can be quiet, used frequently, and are often part of a busy work environment. However, incidents involving forklifts are usually serious and often fatal.
Forklifts are designed to be compact and manoeuvrable, but when carrying loads, they can become unstable. Forklift operators and pedestrians are at risk of serious crush injuries caused by falling loads and the forklift itself. It’s important to understand how to operate forklifts safely to prevent incidents. Even at low speeds, forklifts can leave people with serious injuries or worse. Pedestrians are at risk as well as the person using the forklift.
Examples of risks when using forklifts are:
- Collisions - both with people, other plant, and structures. Colliding with a structure can pose an immediate risk to the operator, but also create instability in the structure leading to further risk to people close by.
- Instability - tipping over can happen quite easily (for example, when carrying an uneven load, or braking or accelerating down a slope).
- Speed and stopping distances - applying a forklift’s brakes inappropriately can cause the forklift to tip forward or lose its load.
- Sprains and strains - operating a forklift can cause sprains, strains, and other soft tissue injuries to the neck, back, and arms (this can lead to long-term health problems).
- Falling objects – incorrectly supported loads can tip and fall from the forklift tines. In some cases, it is recommended to secure the load to the tines (check forklift or attachment manuals for the recommended lifting technique).
Ways to manage health and safety
Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.
Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents
Business owners must ensure the provision and maintenance of safe plant. Higher order risk controls include designing plant to eliminate risks to health and safety. An example would be the introduction of intelligent systems that make it impossible to start the forklift unless the seatbelt is fastened and engineering controls such as proximity sensors.
It’s important to operate a forklift safely and create a safe work environment to minimise the risk of incidents. Simple measures that can make a big difference, are:
- observing speed limits and stop signs.
- wearing correctly fitted seat belts.
- slowing down and sounding the horn at intersections
- forklift operator having a clear view in the direction of travel.
- use of a spotter directing forklift movement and pedestrian interaction.
- proximity devices to warn and control pedestrian and plant interactions.
The risk of forklift-related injuries can also be reduced by making sure workers are well trained, machinery is well maintained, and a traffic management plan (inclusive of implementing and maintaining exclusion zones), is in place.
Be well prepared and properly trained
- Only operate a forklift if you hold a high-risk work licence or are an authorised trainee.
- Don’t operate a forklift when you’re tired.
- Do what is reasonably practicable to be safe, such as wearing a seatbelt if one is provided. The only exception is if a risk assessment advises otherwise.
- Use the forklift only for the purpose for which it was designed.
- Read and follow the manufacturer’s specifications.
- Before driving a forklift onto a truck, trailer, or rail wagon, check the brakes of the receiving vehicle are set, and the wheels are chocked.
Take care when loading a forklift
- Make sure loads are within the rated load capacity of the forklift.
- Carry loads as close to the ground as possible.
- Place loads fully against the truck carriage or back rest. The mast should be tilted sufficiently backward to safeguard the load.
- Don’t use a forklift to raise a person unless there’s an approved work platform attached.
- Keep a clear view ahead and behind, using a correctly adjusted rear-view mirror.
- Clearly indicate your intentions.
- Keep a safe distance from other vehicles.
- Observe speed limits and make sure you can stop safely at any time.
- Don’t speed up or slow down quickly.
- Slow down when turning.
- Drive in reverse if you can’t see past a bulky load.
- If you’re driving up an incline with a load:
- make sure the load faces forward.
- tilt the mast back sufficiently to safeguard the load.
- raise the forks so they clear the ground.
- If driving down an incline with a load:
- drive in reverse with the load and forks facing up the incline.
- tilt the mast back sufficiently to safeguard the load.
- raise the forks so they clear the ground.
- If you’re driving up an incline with no load, place the forks on the downhill side of the forklift.
- Remove the starter-switch key when you leave the forklift. Make sure the:
- controls are in neutral.
- power is shut off.
- park brakes are applied.
- forks are fully lowered.
Be aware of your work environment
- Drive carefully on wet or slippery surfaces and when pedestrians are nearby.
- Make sure the tip of the fork, or load, or the rear side of the forklift, doesn’t touch a person or object.
- Never park or leave the forklift in any doorway, entrance, or emergency exit, or in front of fire-extinguishing equipment.
- Check for overhead obstructions (such as powerlines), loading docks, and other mobile plant.
For more information, see the forklift safety guide (PDF, 0.27 MB).
Forklifts should be regularly inspected and maintained according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Use qualified inspectors and repairers
- Use only a trained, qualified person to inspect, maintain, or repair forklifts. Use only licensed gas fitters to repair and/or replace parts on LP gas-powered forklift.
- Use only qualified tyre fitters to remove and fit tyres.
- Use only a qualified person to inspect and assess damage, and do not use an unsafe or damaged forklift until the qualified person has rendered it safe and removed the tags.
- Develop maintenance procedures.
- Keep detailed records of every inspection, service, maintenance, repair and modification carried out on a forklift. Record dates, names of authorised people involved, and meter readings.
- Establish a procedure for dealing with unsafe or damaged forklifts. The procedure should include isolating and tagging the vehicle and reporting the problem to the appropriate person.
Whenever mobile plant such as a forklift is used in a workplace, a traffic management plan must be implemented to ensure the safety of drivers and pedestrians.
A traffic management plan is a set of rules for managing the movement of traffic in your workplace. It should be developed by the those in charge of the business in consultation with workers and others in the workplace. Everyone affected by the plan must understand it and follow it.
The plan should consider:
- The physical environment, such as lighting, road surfaces, ventilation, and weather.
- Traffic destination, flow, volume, and priorities.
- Forklift stopping distances, turning (tail swing), and operator blind spots.
- Forklift characteristics, such as stability and attachments.
- Load characteristics, such as height, width and type - reorganising the layout of the workplace to minimise areas shared by pedestrians and forklifts.
- Ensuring workers are not placed at risk by walking with a load on the forklift to stabilise the load.
- Using physical barriers such as safety barriers, containment fences, bollards, or railed walkways where possible.
- Blind spots caused by stationary equipment and vehicles.
- A combination of audio (e.g., reversing alarms and horns) and visual (e.g., flashing lights) warning devices.
- Signs to indicate who must give way.
- Implementing and enforcing procedures that describe how pedestrians and forklifts must interact in different situations.
The traffic management plan should also ensure:
- It is clear to forklift operators and workers who has right of way.
- Any no-go zones for forklifts or pedestrians are clearly isolated and marked.
- If high visibility vests are required, they are readily available to staff and visitors.
- Pedestrian floor markings are highly visible and not faded.
- Speed limits are clearly signed and followed.
- Traffic directions, such as 'stop' and 'one way', are clearly signed and followed.
- Proximity devices are operating efficiently to trigger signals, boom gates, and warning signs to give advanced warning to pedestrians and operators.
- That pedestrians and forklift operators are wearing high-visibility or reflective clothing, (although this is no substitute for physically separating pedestrians and forklifts).
Before using a forklift, the operator should:
- Complete a pre-operational check by following the manufacturer's instructions in the forklift manual.
- Report any damage or problems to their supervisor immediately.
- Follow the manufacturer's or employer's maintenance procedures.
- Remove the key and tag out unsafe forklifts to prevent unauthorised use.
More information on traffic management plans and forklift safety can be found in the links below.
- Managing risks of plant in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.57 MB)
- Traffic management for construction or maintenance work code of practice 2008 (PDF, 0.8 MB)
- Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 3.9 MB)
- Managing risks in stevedoring code of practice 2023 (PDF, 0.83 MB)
- How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Forklift safety for employers: maintenance (PDF, 0.35 MB)
- Forklift safety for employers: traffic management (PDF, 0.53 MB)
- Forklift safety for workers (PDF, 0.38 MB)
- Forklift safety – reducing the risks guide (PDF, 0.27 MB)
- Attaching a LPG cylinder to a forklift (PDF, 0.1 MB)
- Separating forklifts and workers - fact sheet (PDF, 0.4 MB)
- Forklift safety - reducing the risks (PDF, 0.27 MB)
- Understanding a forklift's load capacity (PDF, 0.41 MB)
- Using forklift attachments (PDF, 0.34 MB)
- Managing traffic onsite - video
Have you been affected by a workplace fatality, illness or serious injury?
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