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  1. Introduction
  2. Safe systems of work
  3. Training and certification
  4. Safe operation of forklifts
  5. Specialised forklifts
  6. Legislation
  7. Australian Standards


Industrial lift trucks or forklifts, as they are commonly known, are used to lift, transport and place goods and materials. They include counter-balanced or ride-on forklifts, pedestrian operated forklifts, rough terrain forklifts and a number of specialised forklifts.

Forklift injuries

Forklift accidents resulted in ten fatalities in Western Australia between 1990 and 2002 inclusive.

Forklift operators can receive serious or fatal injuries from forklift accidents, particularly from roll-overs, if no seat-belt or seat side restraints have been fitted or used by the operator.

Other workers are also in danger. A significant proportion of forklift related injuries involved other workers in areas of forklift operations.

Safe Systems of Work

Employers can ensure a safe and productive workplace through agreed safe systems of work, training, supervision and consultation between employers, employees and elected safety and health representatives.

Training operators to a high skill level will not result in safe forklift operation if unsafe systems of work are used in the workplace.

The workplace should have:

  • clearly defined traffic areas;
  • separation of pedestrians from forklift operation and other vehicles;
  • speed restrictions and signs inside and outside the workplace (congested areas require lower speed limits);
  • mirrors and visual aids at corners and obscured hazards;
  • adequate lighting;
  • traffic signs where appropriate;
  • loading areas isolated from high traffic areas;
  • give way rules where applicable;
  • flexible or transparent doors where practicable;
  • forklift maintenance and reporting procedures; and
  • parking area restricted to authorised people.

Training and Certification

Untrained operators are not to operate forklifts.

Under Sections 19(1)(a) and (b) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 [PDF 235k] employers have a 'duty of care' responsibility to provide safe plant, safe systems of work, information, instruction, training and supervision to their employees who operate forklifts.

Operators are required to undergo structured practical and theoretical training that covers all elements of competency relevant to the safe and competent operation of a forklift. WorkSafe's preference is that trainee operators complete their training with a Registered Training Organisation (RTO).

Regulation 4.55(1)(a)(i) of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 [PDF 536k] requires that operators of forklifts, which are not pedestrian operated, who are 18 years of age and over, have documentary evidence to show that they have satisfied the competency requirements of the National Guidelines for Occupational Health and Safety Competency Standards for the Operation of Loadshifting Equipment and Other Types of Specified Equipment [NOHSC:7019 (1992)] [PDF 208k].

After completion of training, operators should be assessed against the requirements of the Forklift Truck Assessment Instrument NOHSC: 7019 (1992) [PDF 208k] by a competent person and if the required level of competency is demonstrated issued with the appropriate documentary evidence required by Regulation 4.55(1)(a)(i).

A person competent to conduct the assessment and issue the documentary evidence is one who is experienced and competent in forklift operation and who has knowledge and understanding of the Forklift Truck Assessment Instrument NOHSC: 7019 (1992) [PDF 208k].

Regulation 4.55(1)(b)(i) permits persons who have reached the age of 17 years of age to operate forklifts, which are not pedestrian operated, providing they are undergoing training and instruction under the direct supervision of a person overseeing the training.

WorkSafe issues National Certificates of Competency in forklift operation, on a non-compulsory basis, to persons who demonstrate the required level of competency to a WorkSafe registered assessor. These Certificates of Competency serve as appropriate documentary evidence to satisfy the requirements of Regulation 4.55 (1)(a)(i).

For an application guide [PDF 63k] on the requirements to obtain a National Certificate of Competency to operate a forklift and a list of WorkSafe registered assessors please contact an officer of the Certification and Registration Team of WorkSafe on (08) 9327 8728 or (08) 9327 8762.

Persons under the age of 17 years are not permitted to operate forklifts other than those that are pedestrian operated.

A training course is the only way to learn to safely and competently operate forklifts.

Safe Operation of Forklifts

The following is a summary of general information for employers and employees for safe operation of forklifts and is not to be used as an instruction manual, or as a substitute for training.

Employers must ensure that forklifts are operated having regard to the instructions of the designer or manufacturer, or of any competent person who develops instructions for the operation of forklifts. (Occupational Safety and Health regulation 4.55 (1)(a)[ii]).

Training, instruction and supervision

Employers must ensure that:

In addition, employers should:

  • ensure an operator's manual is readily accessible to operators of the forklift.
  • issue certificates to forklift operators indicating the types of forklifts and any special attachments they have been trained to use eg work platforms, carpet spikes, jibs etc. The certificates should also indicate the surfaces on which operators have had experience eg. internal, smooth, level concrete, etc, to discourage operators from operating outside their area of competence.


Employers must ensure that

  • the inspection, repair, maintenance, alteration and cleaning of forklifts is carried out having regard to the procedures recommended by the designer or manufacturer or, if those procedures are not available, procedures developed by a competent person. [Occupational Safety and Health Regulation 4.37(1)(b)].
  • where the condition of a forklift presents an immediate risk to the safety or health of operators or others working around the forklift, the forklift is withdrawn from use until it is repaired. [Occupational Safety and Health Regulation 4.37(1)(c)].

Maintenance should be carried out only by workers trained and authorised by the employer for:

  • fuel handling and storage;
  • battery charging and changing; and
  • forklift maintenance.

Regulation 4.44(5) requires that "If a forklift has a ROPS or FOPS fitted and seat belt attachment points incorporated into the original design of the plant then the employer must ensure that the plant is fitted with a seat belt at each attachment point and that the operator of the forklift uses the seat belt."

Operators should be restrained or supported so they cannot fall or jump from overturning forklifts.

Operator Protective Devices

Operator protective devices include roll-over protective structures (ROPS), falling object protective structures (FOPS), operator restraining devices (such as hip and shoulder restraints built into seats), and seat belts.

As far as practicable, risks to operators of forklifts must be limited by the provision of an appropriate combination of operator protective devices. Employers must ensure that operator protective devices are maintained and used appropriately by operators. [Occupational Safety and Health Regulation 4.44(1)].

Data plates, labels and signs

Employees must ensure that forklift controls are labelled and operators are familiar with the symbols. [Occupational Safety and Health Regulation 4.29]. The forklift should have a data plate with the forklift's safe working load as designated by the manufacturer. A separate data plate should be attached in respect of each attachment used with the forklift eg mancage, jib, etc.


Most forklifts should have a FOPS fitted which should:

  • not obstruct the operator's vision
  • conform to section 7 of Australian Standard AS2359.1 - 1995, Powered industrial trucks - General requirements [Occupational Safety and Health Regulation 4.44].

As far as practicable, every dangerous part of a forklift must be guarded. The guards must be kept in position while the forklift is operated. [Occupational Safety and Health Regulation 4.37].


Ramps must:

  • be wide and strong enough;
  • be maintained in good condition;
  • have good traction even in wet weather;
  • have side rails to prevent wheels slipping off;
  • allow smooth weight transfer on and off the ramp; and
  • have a gradient that does not exceed the angle recommended for safe operation of the forklift.

Mobile ramps should be fixed in position to prevent dislodgment.

Hazardous areas

Forklift operation may become hazardous in areas that have:

  • slippery floors;
  • potentially explosive atmospheres (dust or gas);
  • toxic atmospheres;
  • restricted ventilation; and
  • poor visibility.

Forklifts with internal combustion engines can expose workers to carbon monoxide and irritants such as oxides of nitrogen. Diesel forklifts produce less carbon monoxide than gas or petrol powered forklifts, but more irritants such as aldehydes and nitrogen dioxide. In confined spaces or poorly ventilated areas, such as cool rooms or small rooms, exposure to such gases can reach dangerous concentrations.

To reduce the risk of hazardous substances exceeding exposure standards in confined or poorly ventilated spaces, use:

  • electric forklifts, or

  • catalytic converters on internal combustion forklifts
  • regularly tuned forklifts
  • improved driving techniques
  • increased ventilation
  • diesel forklifts to reduce carbon monoxide levels.

Forklifts used in hazardous areas such as flammable/explosive atmospheres or combustible dusts as defined by Australian Standard 2430, should comply with Australian Standard 2359.12 - 1996, Powered industrial trucks - Hazardous Areas. Forklifts certified for use in hazardous areas should be labelled accordingly.

Pre-operating check

Before using a forklift, operators should:

  • check its lifting capacity;
  • inspector lift and tilt mechanisms;
  • inspect tyres for inflation (where relevant) and wear;
  • inspect liquid levels (battery, hydraulic oil, engine oil, transmission oil, brake fluid, cooling water and fuel); and
  • ensure brakes, steering, controls, lights and warning devices operate effectively.

Faults, maintenance and accidents

Any faults or safety problems must be reported to the supervisor immediately. alterations or adjustments to the forklift should not be made unless authorised by the employer. Report all accidents, incidents or hazardous situations such as "near misses".

Tip forward

The forklift will tip forward if overloaded.

  • check the load capacity of the forklift and the way it is rated
  • the load should always be facing uphill: reverse loaded forklifts down gradients
  • the load should be back on the heel of the fork arms
  • travel with the load as low as possible
  • don't add counter-weights so the forklift can lift heavier loads than it was originally designed for

Roll over

  • don't drive the forklift across an incline
  • drive up and down gradients slowly
  • at all times keep the load facing upwards
  • be careful with unloaded forklifts - they are often more unstable than loaded forklifts
  • keep the forklift level - avoid uneven driving surfaces, dips and pot-holes
  • keep the load as low as possible when moving
  • don't make sharp turns, or turns at speeds above 5 km/hr
  • if the forklift becomes unstable and begins to roll over, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO JUMP CLEAR. BRACE YOURSELF AND STAY WITH THE FORKLIFT.

Moving Loads

  • loads must not be suspended, or travel, over a person [Occupational Safety and Health Regulation 4.53(1)].
  • keep clear of other people when moving and loading objects
  • secure the load to prevent it sliding or rolling off the fork arms
  • avoid sudden stops and starts
  • never exceed the recommended load mass.

Body Position

  • do not place any part of the body outside the operator's compartment or outside the overhead protection
  • remain seated at all times
  • keep clear of the lifting mechanism at all times.


  • make sure the attachment used is appropriate for the workplace and the job (eg. fork arms, jib, clamp, platform)
  • do not drag loads
  • do not sling loads from the fork arms, unless using a proper lifting device secured to the forklift carriage to prevent displacement
  • when lifting freely suspended loads, the forklift capacity is reduced to 80 per cent of its normal rated capacity. Any attachment forms part of the load
  • do not use damaged pallets, bins or containers that may collapse
  • do not modify any attachments without the agreement of the designer or of a competent person.

Never use a forklift for a job it is not designed to do.

People on forklifts

  • do not allow passengers on the forklift unless there is a separate seat fitted with a seat belt
  • never lift a person on the fork arms or a pallet.

Work Platforms

Work platforms must be used in accordance with Regulation 4.53(2)

  • they may be used only if other methods are impracticable
  • they must be designed for the purpose and securely attached to the forklift
  • the forklift must be stabilised while the work platform is in use
  • suitable fall arrest systems must be used

Work platforms should comply with section 12 of Australian Standard 2359.1 - 1995, Powered industrial trucks - General requirements.


  • keep a careful watch on surroundings while working or driving, and reduce speed as appropriate
  • be aware of doorways, passages or pathways where pedestrians or vehicles may suddenly appear
  • if the load obscures forward vision, the forklift should be driven in reverse (except up ramps)
  • keep warning lights flashing when using the forklift
  • sound the warning device when going through doorways, around blind corners or when starting to reverse.


Ramps should not be used unless the operator is trained in their use. Have dual brake pedals locked together for even braking.

Specialised Forklifts

Information concerning specialised forklifts, such as order-picking forklifts and straddle highlift forklifts, are detailed in the Australian Standards referred to below.

Multi-purpose lifting items of plant (otherwise referred to as material handlers) which can be configured to lift, transport and place loads from a telescopic boom or jib with attached tynes are defined as industrial lift trucks (or forklifts) in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 [PDF 536k].

Operators of this type of forklift require training in the generic competencies applicable to forklift operation. Additionally, they need additional or gap-competency training in relation to the reading of load charts for the lifting of loads at differing boom lengths, luffing of booms with attached loads, travelling with a raised load and where relevant deployment of outriggers.

Operators of specialised forklifts need to hold documentary evidence to confirm that they have met the competency requirements of NOHSC: 7019 (1992), as referred to in Regulation 4.55(1)(a)(i).


The Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 [PDF 235k] places a 'duty of care' responsibility upon employers and employees at the workplace.

Employers must maintain safe and healthy workplaces and provide information, instruction, training and supervision for employees. They must consult and cooperate with elected safety and health representatives and, where other means of hazard prevention are not practical, provide protective equipment.

Employees must take reasonable care to ensure their own safety and health and that of others in the workplace, use protective equipment as instructed, and comply with agreed safety and health work procedures.

The Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 [PDF 536k] require employers to identify hazards, assess risks and apply control measures. Employers must be familiar with any relevant codes of practice, national standards and other documents that have become part of the legislation.

Regulation 4.53 covers plant that lifts, suspends or lowers people, equipment or materials - this includes forklifts.

Regulation 4.55 applies specifically to forklifts, requiring employers to ensure forklifts are operated having regard to the operating instructions of the designers or manufacturers, or operating instructions developed by competent persons. It also requires operators to be at least 17 years of age.

Regulations 4.55(1)(a)(ii) and 4.55(2)(b) require all types of forklifts to be operated in accordance with the relevant operator's manual or in accordance with instructions developed by a competent person for the operation of the forklift.

Offences against these regulations can result in a maximum penalty of $25,000.

Australian Standards

Australian Standard 2359.2 - 1985 provides practical advice and guidance in relation to the operation of forklifts.

Australian Standard 2359.1 - 1995, Powered industrial trucks - General requirements includes recommendations for forklift ratings, stability, brakes, tyres and rims, fork arms and attachments, operator protection, controls and control symbols, electrical equipment, materials and manufacture, design requirements, particular applications, hazardous areas and markings.

Other parts of Australian Standard 2359, Powered industrial trucks, are:

  • 2359.3 - 1995 - Counterbalanced forklift trucks
  • 2359.4 - 1995 - Reach and straddle forklift trucks
  • 2359.5 - 1995 - Control Symbols
  • 2359.6 - 1995 - Safety code
  • 2359.7 - 1995 - Terminology
  • 2359.8 - 1995 - Pallet stackers and high lift platform trucks
  • 2359.9 - 1995 - High lift rider trucks
  • 2359.10 - 1995 - Forklift trucks - hook-on type fork arms
  • 2359.11 - 1995 - Forklift trucks - hook-on type fork arms and fork carriers
  • 2359.12 - 1996 - Hazardous areas

The National Occupational Health and Safety Commission Guidelines for the Operation of Loadshifting Equipment and Other Types of Specified Equipment [NOHSC: 7019 (1992)] details the generic competencies for the operation of forklifts.

Schedule 3.1 of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 [PDF 536k] requires these Guidelines to be available for access by persons working at workplaces where forklifts are used.

WorkSafe Western Australia
Document ID: 1405  - Posted: 1/8/1997  - Last Revised: 12/8/2003  - Page Built: 8/2/2006 7:50:15 AM

Copies of this publication may be freely printed and distributed provided that the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection receives appropriate acknowledgement and that no substantial changes are made to the text.