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Operating forklift trucks safely


  • 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.
  • Do not operate a forklift truck if you are fatigued.
  • Wear a seatbelt where one is provided. The only exception is if a risk assessment advises otherwise, for example when operating a forklift truck on a wharf.
  • Operate the forklift truck strictly in accordance with manufacturer's specifications.
  • Ensure that loads are within the rated load capacity of the forklift truck. Carry loads 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.
  • Use a forklift truck to raise a person only if the truck is designed for this purpose or there is an approved work platform attached.
  • 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.
  • Drive carefully on wet or slippery surfaces or when pedestrians are near.
  • 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.
  • Drive in reverse if vision is obscured by a bulky load.
  • Ensure that the load leads when driving up gradients. On gradients, tilt the mast back sufficiently to safeguard the load and raise the forks so they clear the ground.
  • When travelling on an incline with no load, place the forks on the downhill side of the forklift truck.
  • Before driving a forklift truck onto a truck, trailer or rail wagon, check that the brakes of the receiving vehicle are set and the wheels are chocked.
  • Remove the ignition/starter switch key when you leave the forklift truck. Ensure the controls are in neutral, the power is shut off, the park brakes are applied and the forks fully lowered.
  • Never park or leave the forklift in any doorway, entrance, emergency exit or in front of fire extinguishing equipment.

Safety procedures

It is necessary that a set of safety operating procedures is implemented for every workplace device. These procedures should be regularly updated and made available to all staff via training sessions.

What to do

  • Provide training and information for operators on all aspects of forklift truck operation and maintenance. Records of training sessions attended should be kept for each operator throughout their term of employment.
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) where required for such activities as changing or charging batteries.
  • Before starting each shift, conduct a thorough inspection of the forklift truck and attachments such as lift and tilt systems, steering, brakes, controls, tyres, warning devices, load arms, brake fluid, hydraulic oil, etc.
  • Establish safety procedures for fuel handling and storage, and battery changing and charging.
  • Establish a method for determining the weights of loads being handled.
  • Make work areas safe for using forklift trucks. Fit raised edges on loading docks, install warning signs or barricades, impose speed limits, provide adequate lighting and, if necessary fit secure ramps to access work areas.

Confined spaces

Exhaust emissions from forklift trucks operating in confined spaces can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless and poisonous gas. Precautions must be taken when forklift trucks are used in confined spaces such as cold rooms and freezers to ensure exposure to toxic levels are kept as low as possible.

What to do

  • Use electric forklift trucks instead of fuel or LP gas-powered types.
  • Fit a catalytic converter to fuel or LP gas-powered types to catalytically oxidise carbon monoxide to the less toxic gas carbon dioxide.
  • Fit fuel control devices, to maintain an acceptable fuel-air ratio, and check them daily. Monitor fuel usage rates to detect variations in the fuel-air ratio.
  • Use exhaust gas analysers as an aid during regular engine tuning.
  • Monitor and record carbon monoxide levels around workers. Personal or area monitoring can be undertaken.

Around overhead electrical powerlines

Exclusion zones apply when working close to overhead electrical powerlines. Requirements for exclusion zones vary with voltage, and are listed in Appendix B of the Electrical safety code of practice 2020 – Working near overhead and underground electric lines (PDF, 0.47 MB). The electrical supply authority should be contacted whenever a forklift truck or any part of its load has to be close to overhead electrical powerlines. Safeguards and precautions required by the authority should be observed.

In the event of a forklift truck contacting a powerline, the operator should:

  • if practicable, stay where they are and keep others away
  • wait until the powerline power is shut off before leaving the vehicle
  • if practicable, move the vehicles off the powerline.

Flammable atmospheres and handling flammable materials

Great care must be taken when operating a forklift truck in flammable atmospheres or when they are used to handle flammable materials.

Safe work practices are also vital when fuelling forklift trucks or charging batteries.

Potential ignition sources include:

  • flames or sparks from an exhaust
  • heat generated by the engine or exhaust
  • flashback produced by vapours being drawn into the engine
  • over-revving the engine
  • excess speeding
  • sparks and heat generated by brake components
  • sparks from tynes striking concrete
  • static electricity discharged by tyres rubbing up against something
  • an arc from a starter motor or electrical equipment.

Using non-flameproof forklift trucks where flammable dangerous goods are stored or handled without precautions can create an immediate and severe risk of fire or explosion.

Do not allow non-flameproof forklift trucks into an area where mixing, transferring or decanting of fuels and other flammable materials is carried out.

It is not normal practice for a forklift truck to be manufactured as flameproof. Flameproofing a forklift truck is a specialist engineering activity that is carried out after manufacture, such that flameproofing is retrofitted to a normal forklift truck. The degree of flameproofing applied is determined by the flammable zones in which the machine may be required to operate (Zone 1 or Zone 2 only, never Zone 0).

Not all forklift trucks can be economically flameproofed. Generally, it can be economic to flameproof forklift trucks that have compression engines (diesel fuel) or electric engines but not economic to flameproof machines that have spark ignition engines (LPG fuel or petrol).

Hazardous areas

If you store or handle flammable dangerous goods, you should:

  • review the MSDS and package labelling to identify the hazardous properties of each flammable dangerous goods
  • classify areas within the workplace where flammable liquids, gases or solids are stored or handled as hazardous areas according to AS/NZS 60079.10.1:2009 Explosive atmospheres – Classification of areas – Explosive gas atmospheres (IEC 60079-10-1, Ed.1.0(2008) MOD)
  • identify each hazardous area with markings, warning lights and warning signs
  • separate ignition sources from hazardous areas by an appropriate distance or physical barriers
  • provide training and supervision to workers about the risk of ignition sources and how to prevent fire or explosion
  • never use a spark ignition, forklift truck (including petrol and LP gas-powered) in any hazardous area
  • not use any forklift trucks in any areas where flammable atmospheres exist continually (zone 0 area). These areas should be made free of any sources contributing to the flammable atmosphere, prior to forklift entry
  • adhere to hot work permits at all times. Hot work permits should include strategies to:
    • monitor flammable vapour and gas using calibrated flammable atmosphere devices
    • inspect the area and forklift before entry
    • ensure adequate ventilation
    • remove and shut down processes or materials that may give rise to a flammable atmosphere
  • use a forklift truck that is either compliant with AS 2359.12-1996 Powered industrial trucks – Hazardous areas or non 'spark ignition engine', where flammable atmospheres may be present during normal operation (zone 1 area). Ensure an appropriate hot work permit system is effectively implemented
  • use either a powered forklift truck that has been modified for use in a zone 2 area; or is not a spark ignition engine forklift and is operated with an effective hot work permit system, where a flammable atmosphere may occur for short periods of time (zone 2 area)
  • use only forklift trucks specifically designed for use in explosive or flammable areas, and ensure that they comply with the relevant Australian Standards
  • train all employees on how to eliminate the risks involved in handling flammable atmospheres and materials and potential ignition sources
  • ensure there is a strictly enforced 'no smoking' policy in refuelling areas or battery charging areas
  • NOT use naked flames when checking levels of battery cells
  • handle and store liquid fuel and LP gas in accordance with the relevant Australian Standards
  • ensure adequate ventilation in workplaces where using forklift trucks powered by LP gas, petrol or diesel fuel
  • refuel, park and store LP gas-powered forklift trucks in well ventilated areas that are safely away from combustible material and sources of heat or ignition. Ensure that the LP gas cylinder is turned off at the valve when the forklift truck is not in use
  • ensure LP gas cylinders are removed and replaced by correctly trained employees following procedures that comply with relevant Australian Standards
  • ensure batteries are recharged and changed by correctly trained employees and in strict accordance with the relevant standard. Before changing or recharging batteries, ensure the park brake is applied and the vent caps are functioning correctly
  • prevent the build-up of flammable gasses by holding the battery cover open while the battery is on charge
  • use the correct tools and keep metal objects away from battery cells when changing or charging batteries
  • not use liquids with a flashpoint of less than 61 deg C for cleaning forklift trucks
  • follow the recommendations of the flameproofing company about the inspection and maintenance of the flameproofing features for forklifts that have been flamproofed
  • establish and maintain procedures for diesel forklifts that have been flameproofed to ensure that the spark arrestor tank on the exhaust line is attended to in accordance with the recommendations of the flameproofing company.

Around forklifts

Employers and trained forklift truck operators should be aware of what not to do with and around forklifts. It is the responsibility of everyone in the workplace to ensure that these practices do not occur.

  • A forklift truck must not be used as a towing or push device, unless appropriate attachments are fitted.
  • A tow rope must never be attached to the mast to pull or drag loads.
  • Unless of an authorised design, fork extensions should not be fitted.
  • A person should not push on the point of one or both forks. Nor should a person stand or walk under the elevated forks, even when a load is not being carried.
  • The backrest extension and overhead guard of the forklift truck should not be removed, unless specifically authorised.
  • A forklift truck should not be left stationary, with the engine running, in confined spaces.
  • A forklift truck must not be parked or stacked on an incline, or operated on gradients with the load elevated more than necessary.
  • A passenger must never be carried on the forks or load.
  • An operator's arms, hands, legs and head must not leave the confines of the cab or be placed between the uprights of the mast.
  • A forklift should not cross railway lines, unless the lines are recessed into the surface; or be driven over a bridge plate, unless it is securely fixed and can support the total weight.
  • There must be a strictly enforced no smoking policy in a refuelling or battery charging area.
  • Naked flames should not be used when checking the level of electrolyte in battery cells.