top of page

Forklift Trucks

INTRODUCTION


Forklift trucks are commonly encountered in most industrial premises and over the years have been the cause, either directly or indirectly, of many large fire losses, as well giving rise to serious accidents and injury.


The objective of this Technical Bulletin is to summarise the key fire safety considerations in connection with forklift trucks, from which a uniform and consistent approach to risk assessment and control by all Consultants is achieved. Whilst the main focus is towards forklift trucks, some of the content of this bulletin can equally apply to other items of mobile industrial plant.

 

GENERAL PRECAUTIONS


Irrespective of the method of power, general fire safety precautions applicable to forklift trucks include the following: -


  • All forklift trucks are to be routinely inspected and maintained in accordance with the manufactures’ schedules (in addition, inspection and certification of lift trucks by a competent person is a statutory duty under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998). A written record of all maintained activities is to be kept.

     

  • A designated area should be provided for the parking of trucks during idle periods which is at least 1.5m clear of all combustibles, or is separated by a 60min rated fire barrier. In circumstances where this area is also used for the servicing and maintenance of trucks, a minimum space separation of 10m should apply, or a 60min fire barrier provided. Special arrangements apply to the parking of LPG fuelled trucks as detailed below.

  • Operators to receive adequate training which must be administered by an accredited trainer (e.g. AITT; ITSARR; CITB; RTITB; Lantra accredited trainers).

  • A daily start-up inspection of equipment should be conducted by a responsible person checking for oil, fuel and hydraulic leaks; battery connections; audible warning signals; brakes; systems for lifting tilting; and general truck safety. All reported defects are to be rectified before use.

  • Trucks to be kept free of accumulations of grease, oil, dust and fly.

     

  • Particular care needs to be taken to avoid impact damage to fire doors, structural fire protection and combustible cored composite panels. In the event that such damage occurs, this must be immediately reported, and appropriate remedial action taken as a matter of priority. Similar attention should also be given to racking systems.

  • In the event that the premises are sprinkler protected, it is important that a detailed assessment of the potential risk of impact damage to sprinkler heads, range pipes and the main control valves is conducted. Where necessary, suitable mechanical protection should be provided.

  •  All forklift trucks should carry a suitable fire extinguisher (suitable extinguishers are also to be provided in the vicinity of truck charging equipment). Leading truck manufacturers such as Linde working in conjunction with the fire protection industry have the capability of offering an on-board automatic fire suppression system for the protection of the engine bays of diesel and LPG powered trucks where employed in high risk environments. Such protection can also normally be retrofitted and is therefore a measure for consideration where merited by the risk.

  •  

    Where explosive atmospheres are encountered, it is essential that the use of forklift trucks and, for that matter, any other form of mobile plant is restricted to equipment that has been designed and certified for use in the appropriate Zone in question, in accordance with the “ATEX Equipment Directive” (Technical Bulletin 23 refers).

 

Electric and diesel trucks are capable of conversion for use in Zone 1 (21) & Zone 2 (22) areas, although no such conversion is available for LPG trucks. A leading company in the design and installation of explosion proof systems for forklift trucks and other equipment is the Pyroban Group Ltd and further details can be obtained from their website www.pyroban.com.

 

  • All enclosures and protective covers about the engine and exhaust system should   be kept in place at all times trucks are in operation. In respect of battery operated trucks designed for use in explosive atmospheres, safe operation will be dependent on the enclosure of the electrical system.

                                                          

BATTERY POWERED TRUCKS


The use of battery powered trucks is invariably the preferred option to help limit the introduction of fuel into the building. However, caution is required to be observed regarding the arrangements for battery charging and the following precautionary measures apply:


  • Multiple charging facilities should be located in a separate designated building of non-combustible construction or in an area enclosed in fire resisting construction of at least 60min rating. This would particularly apply to major storage and distribution facilities. 

  • In circumstances where the above arrangements are not feasible, or where dealing with a single charging panel serving one or two trucks, the charging units and trucks/batteries undergoing charge are to be located in a designated charging area, maintained at least 2m clear of combustible materials and combustible construction (e.g. combustible cored, composite panels). Barrier rails or prominent floor markings are to be used to delineate the clear area required.

  • In occupancies where there is a presence of dust and fly, battery charging is to be carried out in a separate room with positive pressurization (and, also fire resistance), arranged in such a manner that the accumulation of such materials around the charging equipment can be minimised.  

  • Battery chargers are to be installed directly on a concrete floor (not on timber pallets), or securely wall mounted to non-combustible construction. Under no circumstances are battery chargers to be affixed to combustible cored composite panels.

  • Battery chargers and charging leads to be inspected routinely for visual damage and defects. Support brackets should be provided to hold charging leads off the floor when not in use.

  • Safety cut-out protection to be provided on all charging equipment; specifically, over-charge and over-current devices (these will normally be incorporated as standard on all modern chargers).

  • The installation of chargers within storage racks is to be avoided.

  • Charging areas to be kept in a clean and tidy manner.

  • To avoid sparks, the charger should be switched off before the battery is connected/ disconnected.

  • Assessment of the potential risk of hydrogen production during battery charging should form part of a DSEAR risk assessment.

 

Single charging facilities in a lofty, naturally ventilated building are unlikely to pose an issue, whereas multiple charging in an enclosed area or a separate truck charging building may warrant the provision of mechanical ventilation sufficient to maintain the atmosphere at or below 25% of the Lower Explosive Limit. Where risk assessment deems it prudent, hydrogen gas monitoring equipment should be installed, interlocked to automatic isolation of all charging equipment.

 

DIESEL POWERED TRUCKS


Key risk assessment and control measures are summarised as follows:


  • Diesel fuel should be contained in drums or tanks in a safe position in the open, suitably bunded to contain any leaks or spillages. 

  • All refuelling operations are to be carried out in the open at a suitably designated location and from approved dispensing pumps.

  • Engines are to be switched off prior to the commencement of refuelling and are to remain off throughout the refuelling process.

  • Care to be taken to ensure that the engine bay, exhaust system and other hot surfaces are maintained free of combustible materials, including loose waste material that can be drawn into the engine compartment.

  • A spark arrester should be fitted to the exhaust outlet where the truck is to be employed in a “combustible environment” – e.g. paper warehouse, furniture factory, etc. and/or where deemed prudent following a risk assessment.

 

LPG POWERED TRUCKS


Key risk assessment and control measures:


  • The use and storage of LPG should be assessed as part of a DSEAR risk assessment and appropriate fire precautions taken.

  • LPG cylinders to be kept in a safe manner in the open, or in a purpose designed detached storage building of non-combustible, lightweight construction.

  • When not in use trucks should preferably be kept in an outdoor shelter, or detached building constructed as above.

  • The fuel valve on the LPG cylinder to be closed when the truck is not in use.

  • Refuelling/cylinder exchange to be carried out in the open by trained personnel. In the case of refuelling from a bulk LPG tank, earth bonding as a precaution against static electricity should be in place.

  • Where cylinder exchange is required to be carried out internally, this may be permitted subject to there being no open flames or other ignition sources in close proximity and, that prior to disconnecting an empty cylinder, the fuel supply is shut off and the engine is operated until all fuel in the system is consumed.

  • Exposure of LPG powered trucks to high temperatures near ovens, furnaces and other hot processes is to be avoided except for extremely short intervals.  Trucks should never be parked unattended near ovens or other sources of heat. 

  • Precautions as regards cleanliness around the engine bay and the provision of spark arresters are as per those for diesel powered plant, as detailed above.

 

ACCIDENT PREVENTION


It is reported by the HSE that in excess of 8,000 accidents occur in the UK each year involving forklift trucks, many of which result in serious injuries and, in some cases, fatalities. These most commonly include people being hit or run over, being hit by unstable items falling from the vehicle and drivers being injured by falling from the truck or when it overturns.

 

Effective safety management of forklift truck operations can be considered as falling into the following key areas:

 

  • Implementation of safe systems of work.

  • Provision of adequate training for operators, supervisors and managers.

  • Use of correct equipment for the job.

  • Design and lay-out of the premises enabling safe truck movement. 

  • Ensuring that trucks and premises are correctly maintained.

 

For detailed information and guidance on forklift safety, reference should be made to HSE publication L117: Rider-operated lift trucks - Operator training and safe use: Approved Code of Practice and guidance, available at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/l117.htm . Further guidance is also contained in RISCAuthority publication RC11: Recommendations for fire safety in the use of lift trucks, which is posted in ATLAS.

bottom of page