Why is overloading a forklift dangerous?

forklift counterbalance

A forklift truck, also known as a lift truck, jitney, fork truck or fork hoist is a powered industrial truck used to lift and move heavy or large amounts of materials over short distances.

Forklifts are a critical element of warehouses and distribution centres and the structures they are operated in must be suitable to accommodate their efficient and safe movement. Many different industrial vehicles and their loads can become unstable when operating in different levels, on wet or oily surfaces, and on rough terrain. Trucks and loads are also less stable when making fast turns, and when the load is in the raised position. As a result, it is vital that forklift operators are appropriately trained, not only to operate the forklift, but to load it too,

Overloading a forklift truck is a common example of negligence when using a forklift, which can cause unnecessary danger and is often the cause of costly accidents in the workplace. Overloading a forklift truck can result in the truck tipping or falling, which can cause substantial damage to both the vehicle and stock, but most importantly, the individual operating it. 

Approximately 1,500 injuries are caused by forklifts and other industrial vehicles every year. Many of these accidents could be avoided if the operator is trained correctly, which can reduce the risk of accidents happening as a result of mis-operation or negligence.

Forklifts can easily tip if they are overloaded, if the load is not well balanced, or if they travel with the forks too high.

Why is it so important to follow weight limits on forklifts?

The main risk of overloading forklifts is the injury or death to your operators and staff in the vicinity of the vehicle. Avoiding accidents that could harm employees should always be the primary concern of every organisation and individual on site.

There’s also the secondary threat to that of your stock and vehicles. Overturned loads mean lost profits. And if you regularly load up vehicles to the maximum, even without causing them to tip, you will place added strain on your trucks, which could lead to breakdowns and repairs down the line.

How to use your forklift safely

Don’t push the weight limit

Forklift operators must understand the capacity of the machine they are using and how important it is to adhere to the maximum. It’s not uncommon for confident forklift operators to become complacent and less strict on their weight load over time, and this is often what causes a forklift to become unstable and tip over, causing accidents and injuries and sometimes even fatalities.

Conversion training is also important when an operator with experience in one vehicle starts working with another. This can ensure that the operator is trained on a specific vehicle including the weight maximums and restrictions of each machine.

Counterbalancing forklifts

Counterbalance forklifts are one of the most common types of forklift, and they are designed to balance the weight of the forks with the load with the weight of the truck itself held by the back axle. With the weight of the truck off setting the load, specific limits are required to keep the back of the forklift heavier, and the back wheels firmly on the ground. 

Weight restrictions must be adhered to due to the forklift being a moving vehicle. When a forklift isn’t moving, it may look balanced with its rear wheels on the ground, but once you add speed, turning, lifting and moving into the mix, the counterbalanced weight will feel the effects. This can also be made worse depending on the environment. If the terrain has inclines or rough ground, this can also make the forklift unsafe if overloaded.

To be sure that the load on the forklift remains balanced during transit, the vehicle must always stay under the capacity limits. These limits can be learnt in forklift training courses, specific to the vehicle.

Establish weight loads

Once you establish the load capacity, the operators should always ensure their forklift is loaded within this weight capacity. The weight of the load can be found on the labelling, or by manually using a weight scale. Scales are usually attached to the hydraulic system of the forklift and they have sensors that measure the weight of the load placed onto the forklift. This way you can avoid overloading the forklift, and therefore avoid any accidents or injuries.

Additional common forklift hazards

Improper use

Improper use while operating a forklift is often actions such as speeding, racing or sharp cornering. Operating a forklift improperly is a serious hazard to operators, loads and the forklift itself. Improper use increases the chance of accidents or collisions as well as injuries, product and equipment damage as well as fatalities.

Forklifts should only be operated for the purpose they’re designed and engineered to complete. Trying to use forklifts for unintended purposes greatly increase the chances of accidents occurring.

Ensuring all forklift operators have the appropriate up to date forklift training is likely to decrease the likelihood of operators utilising the forklift inappropriately, as they possess the required driving skills and are aware of their obligations when operating the unit.

Insufficient maintenance

Broken lights, alarms that don’t work, worn tyres, damaged chains and fluid leaks are examples of problems that can occur if a forklift isn’t properly maintained. Not properly maintaining a forklift can increase the risk of an accident occurring.

Setting up forklifts on scheduled maintenance plans are the best way to ensure units are regularly inspected and maintained to keep them in optimum operating order.

forklift why are they dangerous

Overhead Obstructions

Overhead obstructions like low hanging doorways or mezzanine levels present another potential hazard for forklifts.

Operators should be aware of the forklifts overall lowered height via its rating plate, whilst labelling the clearance levels of mezzanine levels and doorways can assist operators in manoeuvring their forklift and load safely under overhead obstructions.

Blind Spots

When a forklift is fully loaded, an operators view is obstructed. Forklift blind spots are dangerous when operating a forklift since unexpected impacts can cause serious injuries.

Similar to load obstruction poor visibility from poor lighting or weather conditions such as rain can make it harder for forklift operators to see.

To decrease the risk of collisions pedestrians need to be directed away from walking or working in a forklifts blind spots.

Driving routes should be planned to best avoid blind spots, obstacles and other hazards when transporting large loads, whilst spotters should be employed when manoeuvring around blind spots.


An improperly installed attachment when fully loaded can cause severe injury and damage were a malfunction to occur.

Forklift attachments are another source of hazard as their installation directly affects the units lift operating clearances and safe lifting capacity. All forklift operators should be trained in the correct use of all attachments they must operate including relevant safety protocols and revised safe capacity and lift limits.

Before operating all attachments operators should visually and mechanically inspect them to ensure they function correctly and are safe to use.

Any attachment that is malfunctioning should be immediately removed from service and repaired or replaced before being utilised again.


It is a legal requirement that teams are tried appropriately for their role using forklifts. Failure to do so can result in serious financial penalties, injuries, stock damage and sometimes even death.

If you or your team are looking for forklift refresher training, contact us for more information.


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