The experts at Alpine Engineering and Design, Inc. provided Mechanical Expert Witness services on the following case.  The case has was settled out of court, confidentially.  We have been informed that the settlement was favorable for the deceased’s family.

Background

An employee of a lawn and landscape company was working with his crew at a local office building.  Employees were involved in different activities including mowing the grass.  As part of their process, when the grass bin on the mower was full, the lawn and landscape employees would empty the grass bin into one of two custom grass buckets that were positioned on the ground.  When necessary, a tractor would pick up each grass bucket and dump it into a trailer.  This was supposedly easier and faster than dumping the mower grass bins directly into the trailer.  The mower grass bins could be dumped into the custom container 2-3 times before the custom grass bucket needed to be emptied.

The lawn and landscape company commissioned a local welding shop to manufacture the custom grass buckets.  They copied the attachment method from a bucket that was supplied by the tractor manufacturer.  The mounting system used was typical of those often found in the agricultural industry.  The attachments have a pair of hooks located near the upper portion and two ears with pin holes at the lower portion as shown below.  The custom grass buckets weighed approximately 560 lbs each.

The tractor has a carrier attached to the arms.  The carrier has a horizontal bar that engages the hooks and four ears with pin holes, one ear on either side of pin hole on the attachment on the bucket.  To engage the custom grass bucket, the bar is slid up and under the hooks, and the carrier is rotated down so that the pin holes align.  When the pin holes align, the spring-loaded pin can be placed, securing the attachment to the carrier.  This is a safe attachment method when used appropriately.

The whole reason the lawn and landscape company had these custom buckets built was to increase the efficiency of their operation.  The owner testified that “so we had basically built a bucket or what we called a box, that was longer so you could back in there and dump two or three loads in it so you wouldn’t have to be lifting if off the ground so much, you know.”

It makes intuitive sense that a lawn care and landscaping business would want to be as efficient as possible.  Higher efficiency results in higher profits and/or less time on the job.  That is, unless the efficiency comes at the cost of safety.

On the day of the incident, there were two custom grass buckets on site at the facility.  While one grass bucket would increase the efficiency of the operation, the introduction of a second custom grass bucket, would decrease the efficiency of the grass dumping operation UNLESS the custom grass buckets were dumped without engaging the pin and securing it to the carrier.

The employee was working mainly on irrigation, but it would appear that at least part of his duties included using the tractor to dump the grass from the custom containers into the trailer.  There were only three employees who had been ‘trained’ to operate the tractor.

Evidence showed that nobody witnessed the incident, but based on the police photos, it would appear that the employee who was operating the tractor engaged the hooks of the custom grass bucket with the tractor, but did not secure the bucket to the tractor with the provided pin.  After using the tractor to dump one of the containers, he lifted the container up and tilted it back to a point where the hooks disengaged and it fell from the tractor front loader arms and landed on him as he sat in the operator’s seat on the tractor.

He was found some time later and emergency services were called.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The lawn and landscape company motivated its employees to use the custom grass bucket without the pin engaged by providing two custom grass buckets that both needed to be dumped by a single tractor.  Proper operation with two custom grass buckets was less efficient and required more time and effort than simply engaging the hooks and dumping the custom grass bucket without engaging the pin.

The lawn and landscape company failed to provide sufficient training regarding the crush hazard that was a known hazard for using attachments without engaging the pin.

The lawn and landscape company failed to provide sufficient supervision and correct the misuse by at least two of the three authorized operators that exposed them to the crush hazard that was a known hazard for using attachments without engaging the pin.

The lawn and landscape company failed to provide and enforce safe working procedures so that the operators avoided the crush hazard that was a known hazard for using attachments without engaging the pin.

This accident occurred because the custom grass bucket was hooked onto the tractor carrier, but the pin to connect the bucket to the carrier did not engage the bucket.

The lawn and landscape company was aware of the potentially fatal risks of operating the custom grass bucket without the pin engaged, but encouraged employees to use it that way in spite of the hazards.

About the Author:

David Smith is a licensed professional mechanical engineer, a certified safety professional in comprehensive practice and the Vice President of Alpine Engineering and Design, Inc. He specializes in product development, machine design, design safety reviews, risk analysis and expert witness work. If you would like to speak with David about your equipment or a new case please reach out through www.AlpineEng.com