Forklifts and loading docks

There are regulations relating to forklifts and loading docks. This page sets out what the regulations mean.

Loading docks

Many hazardous situations can arise when a forklift truck is being used. Hazards in relation to the condition of the forklift or in respect to the surface upon which the forklift is being driven must be considered.

Risks arise for employers and employees alike when using a forklift on a loading dock where protection must be provided to prevent the forklift from being driven over the edge. The question is how best to guard the edge of the loading dock and still be able to operate the forklift truck efficiently.

Australian Standard 2359.2 at clause 5.12.2 states:

Where there is a risk that a wheel may be driven over the edge of a loading dock, physical barriers or other appropriate systems shall be provided

Regulation 3.1 of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 requires that:

A person who, at a workplace, is an employer, the main contractor, a self-employed person, a person having control of the workplace or a person having control of access to the workplace must, as far as practicable -

  1.  identify each hazard to which a person at the workplace is likely to be exposed;
  2. assess the risk of injury or harm to a person resulting from each hazard, if any, identified under paragraph (a); and
  3. consider the means by which the risk may be reduced.

Regulation 4.55 (2) of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations states:

If there is a pedestrian operated industrial lift truck at a workplace, then a person who, at the workplace is an employer, the main contractor, a self employed person, a person having control of the workplace or a person having control of access to the workplace must ensure that that truck is operated —

  1. by a person who is trained or being trained in the operation of that type of truck and who has reached 17 years of age; and
  2. having regard to the instructions of a person who designed or manufactured the industrial lift truck or of any competent person who develops instructions for the operation of the industrial lift truck.

In addition to those regulations the employer must consider the duty of care requirements of Section 19 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 to provide a safe working environment for persons working, or at the workplace. If the edge of a loading dock is not protected and the forklift using the dock is driven over the edge, then quite conceivably the employer could be seen to be negligent in respect of his duty of care.

How can the employer address and eliminate the risk associated with this activity?

Three steps must be addressed.

  • Identification of hazard
  • Assessment of the associated risk
  • Control or minimisation of the risk

Identification of hazard

Typically loading docks are 1.2 metres above ground level. The hazard in this case is the falling of the forklift truck from the loading dock to the ground level resulting in injury to the driver or others at the workplace.

Assess the risk

Risk, in relation to any injury or harm means the probability of that harm or injury occurring.

The risk can be assessed by applying the following steps:-

  • Gather information about each hazard identified.
  • Think about how many people are exposed to the hazard.
  • Use this information to assess the 'likelihood' and the 'consequences' of each hazard.

When assessing how likely it is that a hazardous event or situation will occur, consider the following categories of 'Likelihood'.

  • Very likely - could happen frequently.
  • Likely - could happen occasionally.
  • Unlikely - could happen, but only rarely.
  • Highly unlikely - could happen, but probably never will.

Examples of points to be considered when assessing the risk would be:

  • Are forklifts used on the loading dock?
  • How many forklifts use the loading dock?
  • Is the loading dock undercover?
  • Is the loading dock exposed to the elements?
  • Is the surface of the loading dock smooth or likely to be slippery when wet?
  • How easy is access to the loading dock achieved?
  • Do forklifts have to manoeuvre on the loading dock?
  • Is the area congested eg. with goods received, storage items, other forklifts, etc?
  • Do pedestrians use the area?
  • What is the risk of collision between vehicles and pedestrian traffic?
  • Is a dock leveller in position and how is it operated?
  • Is the loading dock suitable for rear or side loading trucks?
  • When a truck is in position does it protect edges?

Once you have come up with a best estimate about likelihood the next step is to work out a best estimate in relation to consequence. What will be the outcome should the forklift be driven over the edge of the loading dock, - fatal or serious injury? What will be the consequence should a forklift run into another employee - fatal or serious injury?

Your information from research, observation of activities, knowledge of systems of work in place will enable you to 'best estimate' the consequences, should things go wrong, ranging from fatal to negligible injury outcomes.

Controlling the risk

The risk in this scenario is the likelihood of a serious or fatal injury resulting from a forklift truck being driven over the unprotected edge of a loading dock.

What steps should be put in place to control the risk?

Three principles should be followed:

  1. Eliminate the hazard - Example - look at whether it is necessary to load or unload from a raised dock area.
  2. Minimise the risk of the hazard - Example - provide edge protection appropriate to the forklift types being used.
  3. Back-up controls - Example
  • Implement
    • safe work procedures and a system of work to be in place to minimise the exposure to the hazard and hence minimise the risk.
    • ensure a truck is correctly in position prior to a forklift proceeding onto the dock area.

Example of edge protection

Where forklifts are used in an area where there is a risk of the forklift being driven over the edge, raised edge protection must be provided. 

There is no definitive answer as to what constitutes appropriate or adequate edge protection. What is practicable and adequate will be determined as a result of the assessment process.

Finger dock

Angle iron is used to provide edge protection. The surface of the dock has also been treated with a non-slip material that is effective in reducing slippage in wet weather.

Undercover dock

In an undercover dock where trucks are side loaded, edge protection of raised angle iron can be used. The angle iron can be painted with high visibility paint, such as yellow, for ease of recognition. Note the amount of wheel that comes into contact with the edge protection. The type and size of wheel on the forklift will determine the height of edge protection provided.

Drive in loading bay to ramp

When a truck drives into a dedicated bay, the edge of the loading dock can be protected by engineered balustrades. The loading area, when not in use, can be closed off by use of a chain.

Removable bollards

Removable or retractable bollards are operated manually with a special key. When no loading is taking place the bollards are pulled up and locked into place. When there is a need to access the loading ramp they are unlocked and dropped into their receptacle, flush with the floor level.

The advantage of this type of protection is that it is available on demand.

Single point loading bay

With a single point loading bay, the forklift truck's access is by a ramp. The dock is used for unloading from this single point only.

A substantial barrier can be erected along all sides of the dock except where the unloading occurs to ensure that forklifts are not on the dock unless unloading or loading trucks. 


The Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 require employers to identify hazards, assess risks and apply control measures. Employers must be familiar with any relevant codes of practice, national standards and other documents that have become part of the legislation.

It is important to plan and design for a safe dock as well as a productive one. Some of the foregoing methods of providing edge protection may be suitable for your work environment. Whichever method or combination of methods you use will depend upon the outcome of your hazard identification and risk assessment.

Remember: - Loading docks can be hazardous if a form of control is not in place and if a person or company profits from the risk then they must manage the risk.


To operate a forklift truck or order-picking forklift truck, a person requires a high risk work licence.


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