A Health and Safety Guide for Forklift Truck Operators

Forklift trucks offer great versatility for the management of heavy loads. They are ideal for use in large and smaller workplaces and are very durable.

However, without correct training, maintenance and adherence to regulation they can pose severe risks. In this article, we will discuss all the health and safety aspects for anyone operating a forklift truck.

What are forklift trucks?

A forklift is a powered industrial truck used to lift and move materials over short distances. There are many different types of forklift trucks available, each one suiting a specific application or workplace.

What are the main types of forklift trucks?

  • Warehouse forklift: these are most often used in facilities with a large number of items in stock. They are great for loading and unloading pallets and balanced materials, as well as removing and transporting items from delivery vehicles.
  • Counterbalance forklift: these feature forks at the front and a weight in the back of the vehicle to counterbalance the weight of the load. They also have no extending arms, giving them the ability to move directly to the load and carry it.
  • Industrial forklift: this is a very large type of forklift that is extremely heavy-duty and features up to 30,000 lbs maximum lift. They are only used for specialised jobs due to the size of the truck itself.

What risks does a forklift truck carry?

Toppling over

Having a forklift truck topple over can happen much more easily than you might expect. Causes include inappropriate loads being picked up and moved by the wrong truck, travelling too fast, incorrect forklift attachments being used or turning the truck too fast with a load in the air.


Another risk that comes with operating a forklift truck is collisions. These could be with an object or a person but, either way, they carry the risk of severe consequences. Forklift trucks in general have a lot of blind spots, which in turn will increase the chance of accidents occurring in the workplace, so the operator has to be aware of his surroundings at all times to avoid this as much as possible.

Loose loads

Special care must be taken when transporting loads as they could easily become loose and fall off the forklift truck whilst it’s in transit. This is a dangerous hazard as it means that the truck itself could crash into the fallen load, or someone could trip over and injure themselves.

Racking failure

When an excessively heavy load is placed onto the forklift truck, it will, more than likely, lead to racking failure. Each level within a racking system will have a weight capacity label on it and all racking should be checked and the capacity limit respected, as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

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How can I use a forklift truck safely?

Get certified

To use a forklift truck in the UK you must have the right certification. Legally, it is stated under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 that it is the employer’s duty to ensure that all employees who are required to use work equipment have been given proper training. In the UK, there are four official accrediting bodies (ITSSAR, RTITB, CITB and NPORS) that can certify the correct training of an individual.

Wear the correct clothing

It’s important to wear appropriate clothing when operating a forklift truck so you can stay as safe as possible. This includes safety shoes, a hard hat and a high-visibility jacket so you can be seen at all times.

Avoid wearing any loose clothing such as ties and scarves to prevent them from getting caught on the forklift.

Inspect the forklift before use

Forklifts should be thoroughly inspected before every use. This is recommended as it helps to identify and log any problems or defects. If any damage or issues do come up within the check, the forklift should not be operated and should be sent for repair straight away. Some factors to check include:

  • The tyres and fluid levels (hydraulic, brake, engine, fuel and coolant).
  • Operating controls including brakes, lights, horn and steering wheel.
  • The mast and overhead guard for damage.
  • The forks.
  • Any water, oil or radiator leaks.
  • The lifting capacity to make sure the vehicle is suited to the task.

Avoid hauling weight that exceeds the counterweight of the forklift as overloading a forklift can cause the rear wheels to rise off the ground and the whole machine to fall over. This may lead to catastrophic consequences including injury to personnel and damage to equipment and materials.

Drive carefully

Drive your forklift within the designated speed limits of your workplace to keep yourself and everyone safe. It’s important not to come to a stop suddenly, do a sudden turn or quickly change direction, as these actions can cause the forklift to tip over.

Always be mindful of the surrounding equipment on the work site. Try not operate a forklift in close proximity to other machinery unless absolutely necessary, to avoid any unexpected collisions.

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