Forklift Truck Safety Inspection Regulations

According to the HSE , nearly a quarter of workplace transport injuries are the result of forklift accidents. The Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA) says that forklifts are one of the most dangerous forms of workplace transport, injuring as many as 2,200 people a year, with around 1,300 of them hospitalised with serious, often life-changing, injuries. 

Most accidents involving a fork lift truck will happen in a warehousing or logistics environment. There are lots of underlying causes - lack of sufficient training of the operator, operator error, a lack of knowledge about the equipment and the working environment, unsuitable premises but we’re going to specifically look at poor forklift truck maintenance and inspection.

If It’s Broken It Can’t Protect You

Any piece of potentially dangerous equipment such as a forklift truck will have a number of safety provisions built in to reduce the risk of accidents. Some measures are designed to protect the pedestrian such as a proximity warning light or horn system, whereas other features are there to protect the operator, such as an overhead guard, load backrest, operator restraint. The risk of loads falling from the truck can be reduced by the use of suitable attachments e.g. fork extensions or barrel clamps.

Having these features in place could save someone’s life but, of course, they are no good if they don’t work, which is why there is comprehensive regulatory guidance on the frequency and type of inspections for forklifts and other warehousing lifting equipment.

Your Responsibilities

Several pieces of legislation apply when it comes to the use of a forklift:

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
  • The Provision and Use of Workplace Equipment Regulations
  • The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations
  • The Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations
  • The Noise at Work Regulations
  • The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations
  • The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations

The regulations place a duty of care on employers to select and procure safe fork lift trucks and once purchased maintain them by means of an appropriate inspection regime. The PUWER and LOLER regulations cover the type and frequency of inspections which fall into three levels:  

  • Pre-use inspections, typically carried out on a daily basis.
  • Planned routine maintenance - under PUWER all work equipment must be regularly maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. In addition to changing oils and filters, and any mechanical adjustments, this will normally include inspection of all safety-related components.
  • LOLER Thorough Examination – this is similar to an MOT and is in addition to regular servicing. For a forklift this must be done at least every 12 months by a ‘competent person’. A ‘report of thorough examination’ will be issued by the competent person and must be retained by the employer for at least two years. Any serious defect will be captured by the report along with a recommendation to immediately withdraw the vehicle from service and the report is copied to the appropriate enforcing authority.

Unless there is an 'examination scheme' specifying other intervals, LOLER thorough examinations should be conducted:

  • Every six months for lifting equipment used for lifting/lowering persons e.g. passenger lifts, access platforms, window cleaning equipment.
  • Every six months for lifting accessories.
  • Every 12 months for all other lifting equipment not falling into either of the above categories e.g. cranes, lifting block and runway beams.
  • Once over a year old, at least once every 12 months for forklift trucks and pallet stackers.

Pre-Use Inspection Checks

You should take the time to carefully examine forklift trucks on a daily basis. Ensure that you check for any faults, particularly focusing on the brakes, steering, controls, warning devices, masts, and tyres.

It’s worth noting that even if your fork lift trucks is hired, employers still have a duty to ensure it is safe for employees and arrangements should be made to ensure proper inspection, maintenance and servicing. Thorough examinations can be carried out by the hire company on behalf of the user but employers still need to ensure that necessary inspections and pre-use checks are carried out and defects reported and remedied as necessary.

At the beginning of each shift the operator should check the forklift truck and report to the supervisor any defects which might affect its safe operation to ensure they are put right. Checks should include:

  • Tyre pressures. Pneumatic tyres, if fitted, should be inflated to the proper pressure; incorrectly inflated tyres can affect the stability of the lift truck and the load. Tyres should also be checked for damage such as swarf, nails and other embedded material, cuts and bubbles.
  • Parking brake, service brakes, and steering gear to ensure that they are working efficiently.
  • Fuel, water and oil in internal combustion-engine powered lift trucks for leaks and correct levels.
  • Batteries of battery-operated lift trucks to ensure they are adequately charged and leak free, that the charger is switched off, the charge lead disconnected and properly stored, and the battery retention device is in place.
  • Systems for lifting, tilting and manipulation, including attachments. These should be working properly. Hydraulic systems should be free from obvious leaks, and hydraulic fluid levels should be correct when the fork arms are in the parked position.
  • Audible warning signal is functioning properly.
  • Lights are all in working order.
  • Mirrors, if fitted, are clean and undamaged.

For lift trucks in constant use, more in-depth weekly checks are appropriate. These checks should include all of the above as well as:

  • An operational check of the steering gear, lifting gear, condition of the battery and other working parts.
  • The condition of the mast, fork arms, attachments, tyres, any chains or ropes used in the lifting mechanisms, and, if fitted, the operator restraint.
  • Security of the overhead guard and load back-rest extension.

This pre-shift check should be documented and form part of a system for reporting defects and ensuring that remedial work is carried out. In the event of breakdown or a defect being identified, this should be reported immediately to the supervisor and where the defect is a safety critical item, (e.g. brakes, steering) the truck should be withdrawn from service until rectified. You should have a system in place to prevent future use of the truck until the fault is rectified and retain the pre-inspection documentation.

A checklist-based form is a good way to give operators a step by step guide on what to look for, ideally capturing the date and signature of the person checking. Many companies use a system which includes a highly visible PASS or FAIL status so that unsafe vehicles are easily identified, a supervisor can quickly determine the operational status of warehouse equipment and whether the inspections are up to date.  

The size and nature of fork lift trucks means that accidents are often life-changing or even fatal. With a forklift, there are no minor injuries. In short, you don’t walk away from a forklift accident. Senior management have a responsibility to promote safe working and are being held accountable when violations occur. Even if a forklift driver is directly responsible for a safety violation, an investigation will be looking for supervisory measures that actively police and promote safe working such as a robust inspection regime.

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