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                        8 min read

                        The ultimate guide to forklifts

                        The ultimate guide to forklifts

                        Forklifts, also known as lift trucks, are essential machines used across various industries for material handling, lifting and transporting heavy loads. Whether you're managing a warehouse, a construction site or a manufacturing facility, understanding the different types of forklifts, their applications and their potential hazards is crucial for optimising efficiency and ensuring workplace safety. This article outlines all this and much more, providing you with all the information you need to know about forklifts.

                        In this article:

                        1. What is a forklift?
                        2. What are forklifts used for?
                        3. What kind of forklift do I need?
                        4. Forklift classifications in Australia
                        5. Types of forklifts
                        6. Types of forklift attachments
                        7. Popular makes of forklift in Australia
                        8. Hazards and safety measures to consider when operating a forklift
                        9. Forklift risk assessments




                        What is a forklift?

                        A forklift is a powered industrial truck equipped with forks at the front that can be raised and lowered for lifting and transporting materials. These versatile machines come in various sizes and configurations, making them suitable for a wide range of tasks.


                        What are forklifts used for?

                        Forklifts are used in a wide range of industries for tasks such as:

                        • Material handling: forklifts are designed to move, lift and stack goods on pallets efficiently, simplifying warehouse operations.

                        • Construction: forklifts handle heavy materials like steel beams, concrete blocks and other construction materials.

                        • Manufacturing: forklifts transport raw materials, finished products and other supplies within manufacturing facilities.

                        • Shipping and logistics: forklifts play a crucial role in loading and unloading shipments as well as ensuring the fast and safe movement of goods in distribution centres.

                        • Retail: forklifts assist in organising and moving products within retail stores or distribution centres.


                        What kind of forklift do I need?

                        Choosing the right forklift for your specific needs involves considering several factors such as:

                        Weight capacity

                        Forklifts come in various load capacities, ranging from 1 tonne to over 45 tonnes. Assess your typical load sizes and weights to determine the appropriate capacity for your project or operations.

                        Lifting height

                        Different forklift models have many lifting heights for various purposes. Consider the vertical space in your warehouse or on your construction site to ensure the forklift can reach the required levels for stacking and storing materials.


                        Different forklifts are often designed for specific terrains. Options include indoor forklifts suitable for smooth surfaces like warehouses and outdoor forklifts equipped to handle rough terrain, uneven ground and adverse weather conditions.

                        MKT-3016 - Ultimate guide to forklifts 2


                        Forklift classifications in Australia

                        In Australia, forklifts are classified based on their fuel source and design. The classifications help to ensure regulatory compliance and the right type of forklift is used for specific applications. The two primary classifications are:

                        Electric motor rider trucks

                        These forklifts are powered by electric batteries, making them environmentally friendly with zero emissions. They are suitable for use in indoor locations or areas where ventilation is a concern. Electric forklifts are known for their quiet operation and lower maintenance costs. Common sub-classes include:

                        • Class I: electric motor rider trucks. These are electric forklifts designed for both indoor and outdoor use but are mostly used in warehouses, manufacturing facilities and distribution centres.

                        • Class II: electric motor narrow aisle trucks. This type of forklift is also for both indoor and outdoor use but it is designed specifically for small spaces, like the narrow aisles found in warehouses and distribution centres.

                        • Class III: electric motor hand trucks or hand/rider trucks. This class of forklift is commonly used for transportation of goods on pallets over short distances, rather than lifting. They are manually operated or feature a rider platform and often include electric pallet jacks and stackers.

                        Internal combustion engine (ICE) trucks

                        These forklifts are powered by internal combustion engines and are suitable for a wide range of outdoor applications. They are ideal for heavy-duty tasks and can operate on various terrains. Sub-classes of ICE forklifts include:

                        • Class IV: internal combustion engine trucks with solid or cushion tyres. These forklifts are suitable for use on smooth surfaces, such as warehouses or manufacturing facilities.

                        • Class V: internal combustion engine trucks with pneumatic tyres. Forklifts in this class are more suited to outdoor areas with uneven surfaces such as construction sites and timber yards.

                        • Class VI: rough terrain forklifts. These forklifts are designed for use on outdoor, uneven terrain and are usually built with a high ground clearance.

                        • Class VII: telescopic and variable reach trucks. Forklifts in the class feature a telescoping boom used for reaching high locations and is known for its versatility in handling materials.


                        Types of forklifts

                        There are many different types of forklifts available for purchase and hire in Australia. The type you select will be dependent on a number of factors including the project you are working on or your business’ operations. Some of the common types include:

                        • Counterbalance forklift: the most common type of forklift, with weight at the rear to offset the load weight at the front, eliminating the need for additional balancing mechanisms.

                        • Reach truck: they are designed for narrow aisle spaces and have extendable forks to reach high shelves.

                        • Order picker: ideal for picking items from elevated racks and features a platform for the operator to access products.

                        • Pallet jack or pallet truck: simple, manual or electric-powered forklifts for moving loads on pallets across flat surfaces.

                        • Rough terrain forklift: these forklifts are generally equipped with large, robust tires suitable for outdoor use on uneven surfaces.

                        • Telescopic handler: also known as a telehandler, this machine combines the features of a forklift and a crane, with a telescoping boom for extended reach.

                        • Sideloader: this type of forklift is designed for handling long and heavy loads and features forks mounted on the side of the vehicle.

                        • Container handler: these are specifically built for lifting and transporting shipping containers.

                        • Straddle carrier: this type of forklift is used for moving and stacking containers in port and storage yards.

                        • Articulated forklift: also known as the flexi forklift, these are highly maneuverable forklifts with a joint in the middle allowing them to operate in tight spaces.

                        • Tow tractors: this forklift is designed for towing multiple trailers or carts in warehouse or manufacturing settings.

                        • Walkie stackers: these are compact, pedestrian-operated forklifts used for lifting and moving loads in confined spaces.

                        • Four-way forklift: these machines are maneuverable in tight spaces with the ability to move in four directions.

                        Forklift attachments

                        There are many attachments that can be used with forklifts to enhance their versatility and efficiency. Selecting an attachment for your forklift will depend on varying factors such as what type of business you run and what you need to achieve. Some of the common attachments for forklifts include:

                        • Fork positioner: allows operators to adjust fork spacing without leaving the driver's seat.

                        • Sideshift: enables sideward movement of forks for better load placement.

                        • Rotator: rotates loads for more precise positioning.

                        • Clamps: grips loads that are not on pallets such as drums, barrels or paper rolls.

                        • Carpet poles: designed for handling carpet rolls.

                        • Extensions: increase the length of the forks for handling longer loads.

                        • Lifting jib: designed for lifting freely suspended loads.


                        MKT-3016 - Ultimate guide to forklifts 3


                        Popular makes of forklift in Australia

                        There are several reputable manufacturers that produce forklifts in Australia. The brand of forklift you choose to purchase or hire may depend on the objectives of your particular project, your budget or the environment you are operating in. Popular brands in Australia include:


                        Crown is a reputable brand known for its innovation and focus on operator comfort. Crown forklifts are widely used in Australia, with models like the Crown CG20SC counterbalance forklift and the Crown RR5700 reach truck designed for efficient warehouse operations.


                        Hyster is a well-established brand with a strong presence in the Australian market. Its forklifts are robust and durable, suitable for heavy-duty applications. Popular Hyster models in Australia include the Hyster H5.0 and the Hyster S1.0, an easily maintained counterbalanced stacker forklift.


                        Komatsu, a globally recognised brand for construction and mining equipment, also manufactures reliable forklifts that are popular in Australia. Models like the Komatsu MR14 battery powered reach truck and the Komatsu BX50 internal combustion pneumatic forklift are well received for their durability and efficiency.


                        Linde is a reputable European brand that has gained popularity in the Australian forklift market. Linde forklifts are known for their advanced technology and fuel efficiency. Popular models include the internal combustion Linde H25 and the Linde R14G, a reach truck designed for precision in narrow aisle spaces.


                        Toyota is a leading forklift brand globally and is very popular in Australia. Known for reliability and efficiency, Toyota forklifts are available in various capacities. Popular models include the Toyota 8-Series 4-Wheel forklift, an internal combustion counterbalance forklift, and the Toyota TMHA LHE150, an electric pallet jack designed for efficient material handling in warehouses.


                        Yale is a trusted brand with a strong presence in the Australian forklift market. Known for advanced technology and ergonomic design, popular Yale models include the Yale GDP50-70UX6, a 5,000 to 7,000 kilogram capacity forklift, and the Yale MR14-16HD, an electric reach truck ideal for warehouse applications.

                        Researching and comparing these forklift brands will help you make an informed decision based on your specific requirements and budget constraints.


                        Hazards and safety measures to consider when operating a forklift

                        Operating a forklift involves inherent risks and ensuring the safety of operators and other people who may be in the vicinity is paramount. Here are some potential hazards and safety measures that should be considered when operating forklifts.


                        Overturning can occur when forklifts are not properly loaded. The risk of this occurring can be reduced by training operators on proper load handling and weight distribution to prevent tipping. It is also recommended you provide them with information on the principles behind balance and stability, as well as how speed and abrupt maneuvers can affect the forklift’s balance.

                        Falling objects 

                        Unstable loads and objects may fall from a forklift and risk the safety of people in the vicinity. Use proper load securement methods to avoid items falling from the forks. This may include using straps to secure the load or ensuring the appropriate attachments are being used. Information on load securement and attachments should also be included in the machine’s safe operating procedure (SOP).

                        Pedestrian safety 

                        Implement designated walkways, barriers and warning systems to protect pedestrians who may be required to share an area with a forklift. Consider also equipping forklifts with audible alarms or visual signals to increase their visibility.

                        Operator visibility 

                        Ensure clear lines of sight for forklift operators from their driving position to help reduce the risk of incidents occurring. This can be achieved by installing mirrors or cameras for improved visibility and ensuring the operation area is adequately lit.


                        Neglecting regular maintenance can lead to mechanical failures in forklifts, and may result in downtime or incidents. Regularly inspecting and maintaining forklifts can help to prevent this. Consider implementing maintenance schedules and pre start checks, while providing workers with adequate training on how to identify potential issues. 

                        Forklift licences and certifications

                        Forklift operators in Australia are required to have a high risk work, forklift truck (LF) and/or order-picking forklift truck (LO) licence to ensure they are properly trained to operate these machines safely. These certifications typically involve both theory and practical components, covering forklift operation, safety procedures and emergency protocols. Ensure all your forklift operators are fully certified before allowing them on site.


                        MKT-3016 - Ultimate guide to forklifts 4


                        Forklift risk assessments

                        Conducting a comprehensive risk assessment is crucial for identifying potential hazards on your forklift and implementing effective safety measures. A forklift risk assessment should cover a variety of components including:

                        Load characteristics

                        Overloading or improperly securing loads can lead to instability and tipping of the forklift. A risk assessment will help to evaluate the maximum load capacity of the forklift and ensure it aligns with the loads typically handled. The risk assessment will also provide an opportunity to check the condition of load-bearing components, such as forks and the mast, for signs of wear or damage.

                        Mechanical components

                        Machinery risk assessments allow for the inspection of mechanical components such as brakes, steering and hydraulics for wear or malfunction that may be hazardous. On top of the risk assessment, it is recommended that daily pre starts are implemented to help ensure all critical systems are in proper working condition and any issues are identified and rectified quickly.

                        Visibility and lighting

                        Poor visibility can lead to collisions and accidents, especially in low-light conditions. The risk assessment will determine the effectiveness of lighting systems, including headlights, brake lights and warning signals, while it will also help to identify whether mirrors and cameras are in good condition, providing clear visibility for the operator.

                        Stability and centre of gravity

                        Incorrect load distribution or sudden maneuvers can compromise the forklift's stability.

                        A forklift risk assessment will identify any potential hazards in relation to stability and whether implementing stability-enhancing features, such as automatic load-leveling systems, is required to control the risk. It will also evaluate the impact of attachment usage on stability and identify whether you need to make necessary adjustments.

                        Operator controls

                        A forklift risk assessment provides an opportunity to inspect operator control mechanisms, ensuring they respond promptly and accurately. It will also help to verify that emergency stop mechanisms are functional and easily accessible to operators.

                        Emergency systems

                        Risk assessments will evaluate the functionality of the forklift’s emergency braking systems and other safety features. This may reduce the potential for severe consequences should an incident involving your forklift occur.

                        Attachments and additional equipment

                        Incorrectly installed or malfunctioning forklift attachments can pose risks during operation. These will be identified during the risk assessment process, while it will also be verified that attachments do not exceed the forklift's load capacity or affect stability.

                        Need more information about forklifts?

                        The Ideagen Plant Assessor team is here to help you understand your forklift and help you ensure the highest possible level of safety and compliance. Get in touch with us today. Call on 1300 728 852 or email for further information.


                        Disclaimer: This information is intended to provide general information on the subject matter. This is not intended as legal or expert advice for your specific situation. You should seek professional advice before acting or relying on the content of this information.

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