Material Handling

Fundamentals of forklift safety

Keep employees safe and productive by reinforcing these safety reminders

By Matt McDonald October 1, 2020
Courtesy: Propane Education & Research Council

Industries around the world rely on forklifts to keep employees productive (see Figure 1). While known for enhancing efficiency, these integral pieces of equipment can introduce a variety of workplace hazards.

Forklift-related citations are routinely among the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) top 10 violations each year. In a study analyzing forklift-related accidents, injuries and fatalities, OSHA found lack of training to be one of the top six causes. Other causes include operator inattention, forklift overturns, unstable loads, operators struck by load and elevated employees.

Figure 1: Industries around the world rely on forklifts to keep employees productive. Courtesy: Propane Education & Research Council

Figure 1: Industries around the world rely on forklifts to keep employees productive. Courtesy: Propane Education & Research Council

OSHA has several safety guidelines in place for businesses regarding forklift operation, maintenance and required training. Businesses that adhere to OSHA’s guidelines, keep forklift operators up to date on training and fight complacency around equipment can help keep crews safe and ensure that business runs smoothly.

Forklift safety basics

Some forklift safety tips may seem obvious and simple, but those are often the tips that get easily overlooked. The following reminders can help keep operators safe:

  • Wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE). When working around forklifts and other heavy machinery, employees should wear personal protective equipment like hard hats, protective footwear and high-visibility clothing.
  • Buckle up. Overturned forklifts are one of the leading causes of accidents, which is why it’s important for operators to wear a seatbelt during operation (see Figure 2). In the event of an accident, wearing a seatbelt can save operators from getting crushed by the forklift’s overhead guard or roll cage.
  • Know the forklift’s lifting capacity. Operating with a load that exceeds the equipment’s lifting capacity increases the risk of tipping the forklift.
  • Watch the ramp. Operators should maintain a safe distance from the edge of ramps to prevent dangerous tip over. When descending a ramp with a loaded forklift, always travel in reverse with the forklift and payload pointed up the grade. When traveling up a ramp with an unloaded forklift, always keep the forks pointed downgrade.
  • Make some noise. Sound the horn at cross aisles and anywhere visibility of the forklift may be obstructed to avoid dangerous collisions.
  • Call it a day. When finished operating, set the parking brake, lower the forks and set the controls to neutral. Safely parked equipment reduces the risk of unintended movement.
Figure 2: Operators must wear a seatbelt during forklift operation. In the event of an accident, wearing a seatbelt can save operators from getting crushed by the forklift’s overhead guard or roll cage. Courtesy: Propane Education & Research Council

Figure 2: Operators must wear a seatbelt during forklift operation. In the event of an accident, wearing a seatbelt can save operators from getting crushed by the forklift’s overhead guard or roll cage. Courtesy: Propane Education & Research Council

Many material handling professionals are familiar with propane, as it’s a mainstay energy source for forklifts (see Figure 3). Propane holds about 90% market share for Class 4 and 5 forklifts, according to data from the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). Businesses are choosing propane because it’s clean, it lowers costs and it keeps crews productive. But like with any energy source, there are specific handling and operating procedures to follow to ensure operator safety.

Figure 3: Propane is a mainstay energy source for forklifts. Courtesy: Propane Education & Research Council

Figure 3: Propane is a mainstay energy source for forklifts. Courtesy: Propane Education & Research Council

Propane cylinder safety fundamentals

  • Inspect cylinders before operating. Check cylinders for rusting, dents, gouges and leaks (see Figure 4). Cylinders that show signs of wear or leaks shouldn’t be used and may need to be replaced, even if it’s within the cylinder’s requalification date.
  • Secure the pressure relief valve on the cylinder. Ensure the pressure relief valve components on cylinders are secure and pointing away from the locating pin.
  • When not in use, close the service valve on cylinders. This helps prevent potential injury around internal combustion engines and unintended fuel loss.
Figure 4: Before operating a forklift, check cylinders for rusting, dents, gouges and leaks. Cylinders that show signs of wear or leaks shouldn’t be used and may need to be replaced. Courtesy: Propane Education & Research Council

Figure 4: Before operating a forklift, check cylinders for rusting, dents, gouges and leaks. Cylinders that show signs of wear or leaks shouldn’t be used and may need to be replaced. Courtesy: Propane Education & Research Council

ONLINE extra

Visit Propane.com/Material-Handling to learn more about the benefits of propane forklifts. For more information on forklift safety, visit Propane.com/SafetyFirst.


Matt McDonald
Author Bio: Matt McDonald is director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council.