The regulator for safety in New South Wales has taken aim at unsafe use of forklifts across several industries including construction, saying that rampant flouting of safety rules is leading to an average of one serious incident every day.

In its latest announcement, Safe Work NSW says it has recorded 598 safety incidents involving forklifts over the past two years – an average which equates to one incident each day if a six-day work week is assumed.

Tragically, five of these incidents involved fatalities.

Over that same time, the regulator issued 494 notices for non-compliance.

Of the aforementioned incidents, almost 75 percent occurred in five industries – transport, manufacturing, construction, retail and wholesale.

Many incidents involved collisions between forklifts or other vehicles, rollovers and objects falling off forklifts when loading or unloading.

The main factor in injuries or fatalities involved inadequate separation between pedestrians and forklifts.

This led to pedestrians being struck either by the forklift itself or by its load.

With their ability to lift and retrieve heavy loads to height, forklifts are commonly used in construction for loading and unloading goods as well as transporting goods around the site.

From a safety viewpoint, hazards associated with their use include:

  • being hit or crushed by the forklift itself
  • being hit or crushed by the load which the forklift is moving.
  • being crushed in a forklift tip cover.

The regulator says important safety measures involve:

  • Separating people from moving forklifts, by using barriers or guardrails
  • Where physical separation is not possible, ensuring that walkways and safe work zones are clearly marked, and that workers adhere to these.
  • Making sure forklift operators only move loads that are stable on the pallet or use an attachment if needed.
  • Making sure operators wear a seat belt.
  • Making sure all parties adhere to site safety rules and the site traffic management plan. This includes both workers and visitors – the latter of which include delivery truck drivers.
  • Talking to workers about safety around forklifts. This includes forklift operators and others who will work near forklifts.

The warning comes as the regulator is undergoing a program to raise awareness about forklift safety and to conduct compliance checks.

These visits will target high-risk industries, and inspectors will focus on licencing, traffic management, seatbelts and forklift safety.

Already, the regulator has sent up to 850 awareness letters to businesses through which it encouraged them to ensure their workplaces were in order for inspectors to turn up.

SafeWork NSW Executive Director of Compliance and Resolution, Tony Williams, said the importance of forklift safety should not be underestimated.

“The use of forklifts continues to grow and they are great tools for all sorts of businesses,” Williams said.

“But if we are not doing it safely then people will be forced to stop using them.

“While always checking on compliance, Inspectors will be out educating users on forklift safety and warning businesses and drivers that if they are doing the wrong thing, they will be held accountable.”

“But we will also engage, educate and build strong working relationships with identified high-risk industries, small businesses and locations to embed a culture of forklift safety.”

Information on forklift safety including guides for workers, operators and employers can be found of the SafeWork NSW forklift safety page.