Forklift truck safety: Your back-to-basics guide

Forklift trucks are essential equipment for builders merchants, but they’re involved in almost a quarter of workplace accidents. These incidents often involve the truck overturning and injuring the operator or collisions with pedestrians in unsegregated areas. 

Lift trucks are governed by a range of health and safety legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1994. Under these regulations, employers are required to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of anyone who may be affected by your work activities and premises. 

You’re also obligated to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment to protect your employees and others, then regularly review and update it. If you employ five or more people, you must record the significant findings. The assessment should: 

  • Locate risks and poor practice 
  • Identify who might be harmed and how
  • Evaluate hazards and implement appropriate controls  

Common forklift-related risks include inadequate training, poor quality equipment, unsafe stacking and manoeuvring operations, lack of segregation measures, and failure to enforce seat belt rules. 

This blog covers the basics of forklift safety to help reduce risks across your business. For tailored advice to tackle your specific compliance challenges, speak to your Opus Safety consultant

Commit to career-long training  

Under health and safety law, employers must ensure that forklift drivers – and those who manage them – are adequately trained for the job at hand. This means not all workers are competent to operate in all conditions. 

According to the Approved Code of Practice and Guidance for rider-operated lift trucks, operator training should always include three stages: 

  • Basic training – The core skills and knowledge required to operate a lift truck safely and efficiently.
  • Specific job training – Knowledge and understanding of the lift truck's operating principles and controls and how it will be used in the workplace. 
  • Familiarisation training – Applying what has been learnt, under normal working conditions, on the job.

Training is not a one-off exercise, and even experienced drivers will need refresher training and supervision throughout their careers. While there’s no set schedule for refresher training, it’s good practice to schedule automatic retests for your drivers every three to five years. 

Refresher training is also recommended when drivers: 

  • Have not used forklift trucks for an extended period
  • Use lift trucks only occasionally 
  • Are displaying unsafe working practices
  • Have had an accident or near miss
  • Have changed their working methods or environment

You should engage a suitably competent person – such as an instructor or health and safety consultant – to formally monitor and assess operators to pinpoint further training needs. 

Make seat belts mandatory 

In 2002, it became a requirement for counterbalanced forklift trucks to be fitted with an operator restraining system, such as a seat belt. Under the same rules, older trucks should also have a restraining system retrofitted if there is a risk of the vehicle overturning and trapping the driver. 

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure restraining systems are used every time an operator steps foot in the cab. Make mandatory seat belt use part of your site rules and use toolbox talks, incentives, signage, and targeted training to ensure your drivers buckle up.

Separate drivers and pedestrians 

Each year, 1,300 UK workers are seriously injured in forklift truck accidents. Among the incidents that concern impact with a third person, 75% affected pedestrians who happened to be nearby and were not directly involved in the truck’s activity. 

If it’s not possible to prohibit pedestrians from areas where lift trucks operate, you should assess the risks and provide ways to adequately control them. These measures might include: 

  • Physical barriers to separate pedestrian activities from truck operation areas 
  • Map out and clearly mark pedestrian routes and crossing places 
  • Clear warning signs alerting people to the presence of forklift trucks 
  • Notices instructing operators to sound horns at appropriate locations 
  • Audible and visible warnings such as reversing bleepers, flashing warning beacons, convex mirrors, and CCTV
  • High-visibility clothing for pedestrians and lift truck operators
  • Presence-sensing equipment that sounds an alert when an object or person is detected

Run daily checks and ongoing maintenance  

Keeping lift trucks in top condition can help prevent workplace accidents. In addition to ongoing preventative maintenance, you should also implement a series of daily checks. Before any shift, operators should examine the truck for issues and report concerns to their supervisor. Drivers should check:  

  • Tyre pressure and signs of damage, such as embedded nails, cuts, and bubbles
  • Wheel condition and the security of wheel nuts
  • Effectiveness of the parking brake, service brakes, and steering gear 
  • Fluid levels, including fuel, water, engine, and transmission oils
  • Battery charge levels and condition 
  • Lifting, tilting, and manipulation systems 
  • Hydraulic systems and fluid levels 
  • Overhead guard and load backrest extension 
  • Fork condition, looking for cracks, bent fork tips and missing, or damaged fork positioning locks
  • Chains, anchor pins, and fixing bolts
  • Warning signals, such as horns, lights, and mirrors 

An effective planned maintenance programme addresses issues before they become pressing safety risks. Most forklift trucks are maintained on an ‘hours-run’ routine but consult the vehicle handbook for manufacturer’s guidance on your ideal frequency and approach. 

Maintenance checks and work should only be carried out by competent individuals with the necessary training and qualifications. While you’re not legally required to keep a record of maintenance checks, an ongoing log will help track and address recurring issues. 

Are your forklift trucks as safe as they should be? 

If you’re looking to improve forklift truck safety and staff awareness at your builders merchant, our trained consultants can help you identify risks, prevent accidents, and prioritise compliance. 

Talk to the Opus team on 0330 043 4015 or email

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