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Jon Pina. MS CSP
Representing the plaintiff, the forklift operator's estate:

Case Synopsis:

The forklift operator, an employee of a steel mill, was fatally injured when a Euclid R25 off-road rear dump truck backed into him as he drove an industrial forklift. He was killed as he was crushed from the weight of his 5,000 pound forklift as it was struck and overturned by the dump truck. The defendant, driver of the Euclid dump truck, owned by a contractor, noticed he felt "something" as he struck the driven forklift while backing up. Upon alighting from his truck he found the overturned 5,000 pound forklift, he had struck, lying on top of the victim. He called a loader operator to help him move the forklift up from of the victim. Being unsuccessful at manually moving the forklift, they resorted to rigging the forklift and lifting it, with assistance from another forklift, from the victim's body with the loader.

The forklift operator, a 19 year old Hispanic youth and newly hired worker, had taken the job to earn money for college. He was assigned, without training or certification, to operate a forklift to transfer loaded pallets from building to another and did not have his seatbelt secured. The day of the accident was a cool rainy day in April with poor visibility.

Expert Analysis:

Although there were citations issued by OSHA's required investigation, being a fatality and reportable, the steel mill was protected from suit since it was the employer. The defendants were the truck driver and his company due to:
  • The truck driver failed to assure that there was no one in the path of his dump truck when he placed it in reverse gear.
  • The truck driver failed to properly assess the hazard of blindly backing up with a "blind spot" directly behind the truck bed. Unable to see directly behind the truck bed as he was moving caused him to strike the forklift. The truck driver testified he had a wide angle mirror on the right side of his truck, a full length mirror on the left side, and he kept the mirrors clean. Although he testified he had a "clear view of everything" he never saw the forklift as he traveled five feet at 3 miles/hour before striking him.
  • The Euclid Operator Handbook provides guidelines for loading and dumping the truck. Since these trucks are so large rear visibility is a problem. "The 'spotter' is needed due to the limited rear visibility the operator has with a truck of this size. While backing up to a dump, the operator must watch the 'spotter' at all times and follow his directions." "Most jobs are planned to eliminate all necessary turning and backing of the truck to position it for loading." The truck driver and his company failed to comply with these written procedures.

Result:

The expert concluded the truck driver and his company failed to perform their job in a safe manner since it was their negligence to back their large trucks up with a large blind spot, knowing forklifts were traversing the area, and no spotter available to safely direct them. Since the trucks traveled so slowly the truck driver and his company failed to assess the common hazard of a struck-by accident potential. Although OSHA cited the steel mill for failing to train/certify the forklift operator (29 CFR 1910.178(l) and enforce the use of seatbelts (OSHA General Duty Clause) the case was settled favorably for the plaintiff prior to trial.

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Jon Pina, MS, CSP, is a Safety, Health, & Environmental Expert. With more than thirty years experience in safety management, loss prevention, construction and demolition, coal, chemical, steel, and hazardous waste abatement, Mr. Pina can observe cases from a well-rounded viewpoint of a Safety and Health professional, construction manager, and "hands on" worker. Among his most notable accomplishments, he has held the position of Construction Manager on many large-scale demolition projects. He also has demonstrated expertise in areas such as the operation of chemical plants and gained field experience as a union journeyman pipe fitter.

See Jon Pina's Listing on Experts.com.

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