Safety warning issued after worker fatally injured by unstable forklift load

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Tuesday, 2 November, 2021 - 12:00
Policy & legislation

WorkSafe Victoria recently issued a safety alert about the risks associated with forklift use, and the need to ensure forklift loads are secure and forklifts are operating within safe working limits, following recent fatalities.

A 49-year-old worker was fatally injured when a large unstable load fell off the fork arms (tynes) onto him.

In a second forklift incident, a 25-year-old worker was killed when standing near a forklift being driven on a sloping driveway. The forklift tipped over, crushing the worker.

The alert said employers must ensure all precautions are taken when using forklifts in the workplace.

Unstable loads can cause forklifts to tip, or the load may fall, crushing nearby workers or the operator, and forklifts must only be operated by high-risk licence holders.

The alert recommended a number of ways to control risk and said forklifts are a hazard and, where reasonably practicable, should be eliminated from the workplace, or substituted with other suitable load shifting equipment. If this is not reasonably practicable, the risks associated with using forklifts must be reduced, using engineering or administrative controls, such as traffic management plans.

Once risk controls are in place they must be regularly reviewed, especially when an incident occurs or there is a change in work practices and revised where necessary in line with regulation 121 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations).

The alert said forklifts are designed to be operated on flat, hard, level surfaces, not inclines, slopes or ramps.

If there is no other option than to operate a forklift on an incline, it said to carefully consider the nature of the load being handled.

When operating a forklift on an incline, at a minimum the load must be tilted back and raised only as far as needed to clear the road surface. Inclines should not be greater than 10 degrees or as specified by the manufacturer.

Prior to moving a load, the alert said to consider the most appropriate load shifting equipment for the job, as a forklift may not be the best option.

Forklifts with attachments are often used to carry non-palletised goods. For example, when a centre operated counterbalanced forklift fitted with jib attachment is used to lift and carry large sheets of stone, steel, and plant maintenance items. Before using a forklift with an attachment to move a load, it is important to ensure:

  • The attachment is capacity rated to lift and carry the load.
  • The forklift's load capacity is de-rated to take into account the weight of the attachment, the increase in load centre and the swing of the load (this must be detailed of the load capacity plate).
  • The forklift with jib is only operated on a hard, flat, level surface.
  • There are no pedestrians in the vicinity, or an exclusion zone is present if it is not reasonably practicable to operate without pedestrians nearby.
  • The operator is trained in the use of the jib attachment.
  • The jib is only used for infrequent tasks. Alternative load shifting equipment should be considered for regular load shifting of the above products.

When long loads are handled by a forklift the alert said it is important to consider:

  • Steel carried on steel fork arms (tynes) is very slippery.
  • Raising long loads over obstructions and through doorways increases the risk of the load becoming unstable.
  • Long loads can easily shift and fall or cause the forklift to overturn.

The alert also recommended to check loads before starting the engine

  • Ensure the most appropriate attachment is used to shift the load.

  • If the load is not placed correctly, reload it.
  • Check that the load is properly secured or placed (if possible) to avoid movement while shifting load.
  • Check that the load is within the forklift load limit listed on the load capacity plate.
  • If the load is particularly long or wide, check if you need to travel an alternative route.
  • If pallets are damaged, remove them.
  • Ensure pedestrians are not present during forklift operations.