Safety Q&As for Crews Operating Propane Forklifts

Article copied from Material Handling Network

Forklifts are often the workhorse of a facility or loading dock, efficiently moving and loading materials day after day. These machines bring countless benefits to businesses but introduce numerous hazards, too.

Fortunately, many of the hazards posed by forklifts can be mitigated. In fact, studies show that roughly 70 percent of all forklift-related accidents could have been avoided with proper training. Ongoing safety meetings are one simple way to keep crews informed, proactive, and ultimately, safe.

For starters, operators should be trained in accordance with OSHA requirements before operating a forklift and employers should re-evaluate operators at least once every three years.

Beyond general forklift safety knowledge, it’s important for operators to be aware of fuel-specific practices, depending on the energy source used to power their equipment. Propane has become a leader in the material handling market, with 90 percent of Class 4 and 5 forklifts being powered by propane. Because of this, it’s important for crews across the country to be well-versed in proper propane safety practices.

What are best practices for handling propane cylinders?

  • Wear protective gloves.
  • Keep open heat, flames, and ignition sources away from cylinders and refueling equipment at all times.
  • Handle cylinders carefully, making sure not to drop, throw, or drag them.
  • Use proper lifting techniques when lifting cylinders.

What specific safety measures need to be taken when operating propane-powered equipment?

  • Inspect cylinders before operation. Check cylinders for rusting, dents, gouges, and leaks. Cylinders that show signs of wear or leaks shouldn’t be used and may need to be replaced, even if within the cylinder’s requalification date. 
  • Secure the pressure relief valve on the cylinder. Operators should check that the pressure relieve valve fitting is roughly 180 degrees from the forklift’s locating pin. 
  • Close the service valves on cylinders when not in use. This helps prevent potential injury around internal combustion engines and unintended fuel loss.
  • Store propane cylinders in a secure rack or cage. The cylinders can be stored horizontally with the pressure relief valves in the uppermost position, and operators should use proper lifting techniques when removing cylinders from storage and placing onto a forklift.

Where’s the safest place to store a cylinder cage?

A propane cylinder storage rack should be located a safe distance from heat or ignition sources and protected from exposure to the elements. It should also be located away from stairwells and high traffic areas. If needed, a business’ local propane supplier can help crews identify the best location.

How does the propane industry support end users’ safety?

Local propane suppliers do far more than sell and deliver fuel. For instance, suppliers are a great safety resource for businesses operating propane, as they can provide safety training opportunities. Propane suppliers can also inspect cylinders each time they’re exchanged, remove damaged cylinders from service, and repair or replace leaky valves and O-rings on cylinders as needed. Additionally, depending on which refueling option businesses choose, propane suppliers can teach forklift operators how to refill cylinders themselves (on-site refueling) or can refill cylinders for them (cylinder exchange program).

To learn more about propane forklift safety or download PERC’s free safety toolkit, visit

Matt McDonald is the director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at