The Hidden Dangers of Forklifts

forklift safety barriers

Forklifts and industrial lifting trucks are essential to efficiency in logistics operations, and are high risk with hidden dangers; particularly for those pedestrians working alongside them.  They are used to lift, stack and transfer loads in warehouses, factories, shipping yards, freight terminals and other workplaces.   

While Forklifts and industrial lifting trucks are certainly one of the most critical tools for these facilities, they can be one of the most dangerous in causing fatalities and serious injuries in the workplace. 

Despite safety initiative enacted over time, the level of danger still exists today and likely, long into the future. In order to try to reduce the annual accidents and injuries rates, it is important for all facilities to understand what forklifts dangers exist, and how to minimise them.  

The following are some hidden dangers around the use of forklift: 

The Most Common Risk  

Forklift tipping over is the most common cause of injuries and fatalities. Despite this being common knowledge, forklift operators are surprised at how easily it happens. When implementing preventative strategies, it is important to educate the operators on how to respond in the event of a forklift tipping incident. 

Forklift operators must be educated and made aware of the hidden dangers.  For example, the consequences when the weight of the load is unevenly distributed; and/or exceeds the maximum weight for a given vehicleAlso, the dangers of driving the forklift on uneven ground and how it can significantly increase the risk, especially when fully loaded. 

In the event that the forklift begins to tip, the operator needs to know how to stay as safe as possible.   

forklift safety barrier

Poisonous Emissions 

Forklifts are operated both outdoors and in an enclosed structure. A forklift is a powered vehicle, that emits carbon monoxide, which can be very dangerous if operated in an enclosed space with no way for the gas to escape. Workplaces need to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide.

The forklift should offer air venting so that the carbon monoxide does not ensnare the driver. Keeping the building open to constant airflow is also essential so that the carbon monoxide can be dispersed and less concentrated so not to harm workers. Large overhead doors should be open to vent the fumes given off by the forklift. 

The forklift operators may experience symptoms and health effects of breathing carbon monoxide which are headachedizzinessvomiting, and nausea. If these levels are high enough, a worker may become unconscious or die. Exposure to moderate and high levels of carbon monoxide over long periods of time has also been linked to intellectual deterioration, memory impairment, and changes in emotional stability. 

If a forklift operator is in an enclosed environment with a concentration of carbon monoxide, they may grow weak, experience blurred vision, and may even fall unconscious at the wheel. Exposure to the gas can create permanent brain injury and even death.  

For these reasons, all workers should understand that carbon monoxide is odourless and may never be detected until it is too late. Proper air venting and awareness of symptoms induced by this gas can help keep workers safe from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

forklift safety barrier

Vehicle Creating Risk 

There are two primary types of forklifts available today; the battery powered, and the propane engine. The propane is typically more efficient and runs for longer periods of time without interruptions and may be the most likely choice for workplaces. 

One danger that is often not considered, is the emissions from the burning of the propane can cause significant risks to workers in the area. Therefore, propane powered forklifts should be considered for outdoor use, or in well ventilated indoor areas. 

Environment versus Efficiency  

Productivity is paramount in the workplace and equipped to deliver the targets on a tight schedule; workspaces and layouts for storage may be limited and confine. High noise levels can impact on safety and must be lowered and controlled. 

While forklifts are built to work as efficiently in that environment to deliver the outcomes, the dangers are that they can move surprisingly fast, and turn sharp corners quite easily. In addition, they are very quiet, which means they may not be heard by pedestrians in the workspace. Often this can be combined with the fact that the driver has restricted visibility, increasing the risk and level of danger for those working in the vicinity of operation. 

Reinforcing safety through the behaviour of the forklift operators and the pedestrians may not guarantee, an accident-free workplaceWorkers may be non-compliant or negligent at times. The easiest and most effective ways to manage this high-risk hazard is to erect structures to direct foot traffic in the workplace.   

By erecting these structures, safety is increased and productivity levels can be better managed.  

Human Failings 

Forklift operations is classified as high-risk work that requires specific attention and any workplace that is involved with high-risk must be diligent in ensuring that they follow through with their obligations as required by the law.   

Workers carrying out high-risk work by operating these types of machinery requires licenses. Working with and around these mobile plants have the added dangers.  However, there is a human factor that needs to be considered. 

forklift safety barrier

Recently we heard the case of non-compliance; where an unlicensed driver, killed her worker in Victoria.  In the past, we have also heard of horseplay; where workers balanced on the tines of the forklift in mid-air and were charged by the regulator.   

However, there may be other physical issues like fatigue, illness and the impact of legal and illegal drug taking that can impact on well-being causing accidents.  

SafeWork Australia has placed an obligation on the duty holders or PCBU to identify the unforeseeable hazards or hidden dangers that could give rise to risk in the workplace. 

Regulation 34-38: In order to manage risk under the WHS Regulations, a duty holder must: 

  • identify reasonably foreseeable hazards that could give rise to the risk 
  • eliminate the risk so far as is reasonably practicable 
  • if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk – minimise the risk so far as is reasonably practicable by implementing control measures in accordance with the hierarchy of control 
  • maintain the implemented control measure so that it remains effective 
  • review, and if necessary, revise, risk control measures so as to maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a work environment that is without risks to health and safety 


Our last issue outline and the principle of safety, which is Safe System of Work.


The Hidden Dangers of Forklifts » forklift

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