An Overview of Health and Safety with Forklifts

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An Overview of Health and Safety with Forklifts

Forklifts are part of the everyday work environment for some 2 million people in the U.K., according to the forklift Truck Association, or FLTA. Operating those forklifts safely is a matter of concern not only for their drivers but also for the individuals who work nearby in warehouses, on docks, and in other industrial settings. Fully two-thirds of those hurt in forklift accidents in the U.K. are pedestrians nearby, according to the FLTA.

National Forklift Safety Week is scheduled annually in the last week of September to remind those in businesses that rely on forklifts to focus on key protections for drivers and others around them. When a business plans for forklift use, trains its staff to regulation, and maintains its forklift fleet, then it is prepared for its Thorough Examinations and can be confident it is operating a safe workplace. These same considerations allow a business to confidently select forklifts and safety equipment, whether shopping in a local heavy machinery garage or an online marketplace like eBay.

Four Key Elements in Forklift Safety

The Forklift Truck Association urges those who work with and around fork trucks to consider four elements of forklift safety. These are planning for safe operations, training of forklift operators, maintenance of the forklift trucks, and the Thorough Examinations of the lift trucks required by law. By ensuring that all of these elements have been well considered and executed, the people who work on and near forklifts in a facility are best protected.

Planning for Safe Operations

Planning for safe forklift operations covers a number of elements. The forklifts to be used must be load rated for the weights they are to lift. Fumes from forklifts must be properly managed. Forklifts must be driven at speeds safe for the ways they are being used. Details on these elements are discussed below.

Enforcing Load Ratings

Every forklift is load-rated to lift a certain weight. That rating changes, however, when any attachment is used. If a side-shift is attached, for example, the weight of the side-shift becomes part of the load, so the total weight that may be lifted is reduced.

The centre of gravity is also moved, which may reduce the total weight that can be lifted. Workers who use forklifts must understand the load rating of each piece of equipment used, how various attachments may reduce the maximum load, and that the maximum load must not be exceeded.

Managing Fumes from Forklift Operations

In confined spaces, no matter how a forklift is powered it has the potential of endangering operators and others nearby with fumes from the engine. Gas forklifts and diesel forklifts produce engine exhaust that must be ventilated. Even electric forklifts offer risks of potentially explosive gases at charging stations. Proper ventilation must be planned to manage fumes of whatever kind and in whatever quantities are involved.

Limiting Speeds and Turns for Safety

It is essential to determine the maximum safe speeds for forklift trucks as they are used in a specific operation. At top speed, forklifts may easily become unstable, their loads may fall off, or the truck may tip. Management must determine safe speeds for the specific operations at their location and then rigorously enforce them. Where possible, routes may be designed to limit curves and create one-way traffic as much as possible. Some systems may be implemented that mechanically limit the trucks' speed in certain areas of the facility.

Alerting Workers to the Presence of Forklifts

Those workers who use forklifts regularly may know where to anticipate their presence in a plant. Others may best be alerted with forklift safety signs in the areas where forklifts are frequently used. Forklift operators also are urged to use the horns and warning devices on the machine to alert others who may be nearby of their presence. Although backup alarms are not mandatory on forklifts, they are provided on many new forklifts and are helpful in notifying people of an unexpected movement.

Staying Alert When Operating a Forklift

Although forklifts are noisy and are often operated in loud environments, operators are discouraged from wearing headsets or other devices that would limit their ability to hear ambient sound. The concern is that an operator might fail to hear a shouted warning or other alarm.

Safely Outfitting Operators and Trucks

Like operators of any heavy machinery, a forklift operator should wear safety boots and a safety helmet. Forklift trucks should be fitted with audible warning devices and flashing warning lights if these are not original equipment.

Properly Lifting Persons with Forklifts

Regulations provide for the design of safety cages with sides and safety devices when it is urgent to lift a person using a forklift. This is not considered an ordinary practice. Using casual platforms of pallets and the like is never an acceptable way to lift a person using a forklift.

Protecting Forklift Keys from Unauthorised Operators

Forklift keys should be removed from the vehicle at the end of every shift and placed in a secure location. A key box that is maintained by a manager is one good way to make sure unauthorised operators cannot have access to this device.


Several training organisations are accredited by the Health and Safety Commission. Materials are available for forklift safety training, which have been prepared by several of the accredited training organisations.

Forklift operator training is specific to the machine to be operated. When the training programme is completed, the operator should be provided a certificate indicating his or her fitness to operate the specific forklift. This is not a "forklift operator's license". No such license exists. It is simply the employer's written authorisation for the employee to operate the specific forklift, as required under Regulation 9 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER 98).

Training to Operate Pallet Jacks

Hand pallet jacks seem too simple to require specialised training. The unfortunate reality is that they account for many workplace injuries. Their users are equally required, under Regulation 9, to receive training for safe and effective usage of this work equipment.

Training for Youth Operators

Generally, youth aged under 17 are not accepted for forklift training. Regulations do not allow youth to operate forklifts before they have reached school-leaving age. Other age specifications set by the Health and Safety Executive Approved Code of Practice and Guidance and by relevant roads legislation are as noted below.

Forklift Operating Function

Minimum Age

Operating forklift in docks areas


Drive forklift 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight (gvw) on public road


Drive forklift 7.5 tonne gvw on public road


Drive forklift heavier than 7.5 tonne gvw on public road


There are no legal requirements for a forklift operator to update his or her training or obtain refresher training. An employer may require a review training session under various circumstances, including after an accident or when the working environment has changed.

Maintenance of Forklifts

Properly maintaining forklifts ensures both safety and the productivity of the work unit. When these useful tools have been properly maintained, it is easier to avoid unscheduled breakdowns that interfere with the workflow of an operation.

Daily Maintenance Checks

Basic maintenance involves both daily and pre-shift checks of forklift trucks and scheduled, routine preventive maintenance as recommended by manufacturer. These checks cover a range of systems. Among the items on the pre-use inspection list for visual inspection are those below.


Check For


Floor, overhead area, surroundings clear of obstructions

Fire Extinguisher

In vehicle and charged

Fluid Levels

Engine oil, fuel, radiator water all sufficient

Electrical Systems

Battery charged and brackets secure; connections secure and clean; cabling not worn or showing exposed wire; electrolyte levels correct; venting properly

Wheels and Forklift Tyres

Not overly worn or damaged; pneumatic tyres inflated to correct pressure

Hoses and Cylinders

Hoses secure, not loose, kinked, worn, rubbing; no damp spots to indicate leaks

Chain Anchor Pins

Not bent, loose, or worn


Not bent or cracked; positioning latches in good order

Items that require operational inspection include those in the table following. These are items for which the effective functioning must be checked before beginning to operate the forklift.


Check For

Horn and Warning Devices

Operational; able to be heard in the working environment


Floor brake stops unit smoothly; parking brake holds; deadman seat brake holds when operator leaves seat

Clutch and Gearshift; Steering

All function smoothly

Dash Panel

All lights and gauges operational

Lift and Tilt Mechanisms

Lift rises to maximum height and lowers completely with smooth motion; tilts all the way forward and backward with smooth motion and holds

Checking a forklift both visually and operationally helps to ensure that these large, heavy machines are in the best condition to be used safely in the workplace. Each operator must be properly trained for these maintenance checks.

Tyre Maintenance

Forklift tyres in good condition provide grip for both safe movement and braking. Different kinds of tyres used on forklift trucks offer different kinds of maintenance concerns. Pneumatic tyres may be underinflated or overinflated, either of which compromises their safe contact with the driving surface and causes uneven wear.

Solid rubber tyres have a band called the 60J line, which is used as a reference line for tyre wear. When the tread is within 5 mm of the 60J line, the tyre should be replaced. In some cases, it is possible to regroove or recut the tyre.

Operator Health Checks

Although it may seem surprising to consider the health of the operator as a maintenance issue, an operator in ill health can be just as dangerous as a poorly maintained forklift. Health and Safety Guideline 6 recommends that all operators be examined for medical fitness before employment at age 40, every five years until age 65, and then annually after age 65. Special examinations may be warranted after an operator has been out with an illness that appears likely to affect the ability to operate machinery.

The Thorough Examination

The Thorough Examination of every forklift is legally required in the U.K. It is the equivalent of obtaining an automobile's MOT, or Ministry of Transport, inspection. The Thorough Examination is similarly a detailed safety inspection but goes beyond the MOT to examine hydraulics, lifting components, forks, chains and so forth.

The Thorough Examination is to be carried out by persons recognized as competent to do so, including experienced forklift truck engineers, specialist inspectors, and particularly those accredited by Consolidated Fork Truck Services or members of the forklift Truck Association. A Thorough Examination may be required as frequently as every four months, depending on how a forklift is used. The table below summarises the frequency requirements for the Thorough Examination.

Operating Conditions

Thorough Examination at Least This Often

Truck used in damaging environments: brine processing, marine environments, corrosive chemicals, metals processing or manufacturing; abrasives, including cement or aggregate

Four months

Used more than 80 hours per week

Four months

Fork truck not permanently fitted to a truck

Six months

Used between 60 and 80 hours per week

Six months

Used to elevate persons, even if very infrequently

Six months (Mandatory)

Used up to 40 hours per week, with no attachments other than side-shift

12 months (Mandatory)

Even when a forklift is used for only a few minutes a week, perhaps to offload pallets at a dock, a Thorough Inspection is required. This safety code is designed to protect all who work on or near forklifts in the U.K.

Buying Forklifts and Safety Devices on eBay

Forklifts for a wide range of industrial uses are offered on eBay. A buyer may select among gas forklifts, diesel forklifts, and electric forklifts by simply keying those terms into the search window at the top of any eBay page. Finding the forklift with the correct lifting capacity requires a bit more digging since the Search and Advanced Search functions do not allow for specifying a range of values. If a particular brand has been selected, then the search may be narrowed by including the brand name in the search terms and then browsing results for the desired lift.

Safety Devices Are Also Available

Many safety devices may also be found, from safety helmets and safety boots in a wide range of sizes for operators to forklift safety signs for the work area. Forklifts may be equipped with backup alarms and flashing warning lights if these are not original operating equipment. In order to reduce shipping costs, it can be helpful to look for a vendor who sells large numbers of items on eBay, such as an eBay top-rated seller, who may be able to provide multiple items in a single shipment.


With some 8,000 forklift accidents annually in the U.K., properly managing for the safe use of these valuable tools is critical to the safety of a workplace. Key elements in forklift safety are planning for their safe use, training operators properly for the specific machines they are to run, maintaining machines and pre-clearing their condition daily, and obtaining the Thorough Examination on schedule for each machine in use. Operators and forklift trucks need to be safely outfitted with protective gear, including helmets and safety boots for operators and warning lights and alarms for trucks.

The workplace itself benefits from signage that indicates where forklifts are likely to be used so as to alert workers who are less frequently in the area. Well-planned forklift routes, with limited curves, further reduce the opportunity for accident. Every forklift is designed for a specific maximum load and maximum speeds. Operators need to be committed to operating their machines within those safe limits. When a workplace team has together committed to forklift safety, it can avoid forklift accidents. The safety equipment and forklifts needed may be purchased on eBay.

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