Forklift Expert from Alpine Engineering and Design offered expert opinions in a lawsuit around the events and equipment involved in the unnecessary death of a delivery driver. The case settlement was confidential, but we have been informed that it was favorable to the deceased’s family.
The owner and driver of a semi-truck delivery service and had contracted with a manufacturer to deliver a piece of equipment to one of their facilities. The equipment was disassembled into multiple component pieces, loaded onto the trailer and transported to the facility.
According to the Police Report, after the driver arrived at the facility, a couple of employees worked with the driver to unstrap all of the items from the trailer. After unstrapping the equipment, the employees each got on their own forklifts and started to unload the equipment from the trailer. After they had unloaded the first three smaller pieces, one of the employees proceeded to unload one of the larger pieces with the drivers help. They started with a piece that reportedly weighed approximately 5,000 lbs.
During transportation, one of the legs of the piece of equipment had fallen partially through the trailer bed. The employee operating the forklift first had to free the leg from the trailer before he could unload the equipment. He inserted the forks into the equipment’s fork pockets and the driver told him which way to move it to free it from the trailer. After freeing the leg, the employee slowly drove the forklift backwards to remove the equipment from the trailer. The employee explained that the driver was assisting by directing him when the equipment was free from the trailer bed and then to lower it to the ground.
The driver was standing to the front left of the forklift, when he signaled the forklift driver that the load was cleared from the trailer and ready to be lowered to the ground. As the load was lowered, the driver stepped forward in between the load and the trailer, presumably to retrieve a piece of wood dunnage. At the same time, the load tipped forward and fell off of the forks, pinning the driver between the trailer and the fallen load.
The employee driving the forklift used his radio to call for help, and an ambulance was called. He then jumped from the forklift and grabbed the equipment, attempting to pull it from the driver’s chest. The equipment was large and heavy and he couldn’t move it. The other employee also got out of his forklift and came to help, but together they still couldn’t move the equipment. The employees searched for anything to help move the equipment.
As they were searching, they saw that the driver had freed himself. He was on his hands and knees under the trailer. He rolled over onto his back. By that time other people were arriving, including first responders. The driver was taken to the hospital where he died.
Analysis and Opinions
The forklift that the employee used to unload the driver’s truck was a Hyster H50XM.
This forklift has a rated load capacity of 4,300 lbs. at 20 inches away from the back of the forks, 3,950 lbs. at 24 inches from the back of the forks and 3,500 lbs. at 30 inches from the back of the forks at heights under 130.5 inches (10 ft, 10.5 inches).
The forklift operator has a duty to know the capacity of the forklift and the weight of the load. Failure to do so is dangerous and an extreme deviation from reasonable standards of conduct.
The employee operating the forklift was in error as he failed to know the capacity of the forklift he was operating on the day of the incident, as required by OSHA.
The employee operating the forklift was in error as he failed to determine the weight of the equipment before attempting to lift it.
The employee operating the forklift was in error as he made no attempt to determine the load center of the equipment before attempting to lift it.
The employee operating the forklift told the police that he estimated that the equipment weighed 5,000 lbs. This is over the capacity of the incident forklift. Lifting a load you estimate to be above the capacity of the forklift is outrageous, dangerous and is an extreme deviation from reasonable standards of care.
The actual weight of the equipment as measured at the August inspection exceeded the capacity of the incident forklift by over 400 lbs., independent of load center.
It is dangerous and unsafe to determine whether a forklift can handle a load by lifting the load a small amount and seeing if the forklift tips or becomes unstable. This practice by the manufacturers employees is an extreme deviation from reasonable standards of conduct.
The employee operating the forklift failed to follow his training on forklift operation provided by the manufacturer.
The manufacturer failed to ensure that their forklift operators followed the training they received.
The manufacturer failed to provide refresher training after an accident or near miss as required by OSHA.
The employee operating the forklift failed to follow the instructions in the manual for the incident forklift.
The center of gravity for the equipment was located approximately above the left fork pocket as viewed from the forklift operator’s seat. The equipment was an off-center load.
The employee operating the forklift failed to exercise extra caution with the off-center load as required by OSHA.
The employee operating the forklift failed to travel with the load as low as possible when removing the equipment from the trailer.
The employee operating the forklift failed to follow company policy and require the driver to stay in a safe area or in the cab of the truck while unloading the trailer.
The incident forklift should not have been used to unload the equipment from the trailer.
If The employee operating the forklift had used a forklift with sufficient capacity for the equipment this incident would not have happened.
If The employee operating the forklift had stabilized and secured the equipment to a forklift with sufficient capacity, this incident would not have happened.
The manufacturer failed to follow established practices for investigating workplace close calls and incidents on numerous occasions, this failure is an extreme deviation from reasonable standards of conduct.
The manufacturer and the forklift operator’s supervisor did not emulate effective safety leadership, but rather appear to have a lackadaisical approach to safety
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