No hand signals in noisy workplace = grisly injury

by on May 24, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

In noisy work environments, it’s critical to make sure workers have a way to communicate with each other – especially if the two people don’t work for the same company.

“The delivery person who was impaled on our forklift is suing us,” said Safety Director Marian Mitchell.

“That would be Dave,” said Supervisor Phil DiNapoli. “He probably dropped off stuff twice a week at our warehouse door.”

“He blames the accident on our forklift operator,” said Marian. “Is there anything to that?”

“No,” said Phil. “It was just a freak accident. We can’t control what these delivery people do.”

“I’m not sure it’s about control,” said Marian. “He says our forklift operator was negligent.”

“Dave’s looking around for someone else to pin this on, but it was his own fault,” said Phil.

“It happened this way,” Phil continued. “Dave was in the back of the delivery truck, loading a tall stack of pallets on his pallet jack. Since we don’t have a loading dock, the truck bed was about three feet above ground. And it’s really noisy back there.”

Pallets tumbled
“So our forklift operator was at ground level, and had raised the forklift blades even with the truck bed,” said Marian.

“Right,” said Phil. “So the stack of pallets on Dave’s jack started to fall, and he jumped out of the back of the truck to get out of the way. He didn’t look where he was going, and he fell right into a forklift blade. The blade punctured a kidney. He’s lucky he survived.”

Marian shuddered. “Yeah, he should be counting his lucky stars. But back to the accident: You said it was noisy. Why didn’t the forklift operator work out some hand signals?”

“I don’t know,” said Phil. “Guess we never figured something like this could happen.”

“You didn’t anticipate stacked materials could fall over?” asked Marian. “Dave’s arguing that’s negligence; at his company, the forklift operator always waits for the truck unloader to signal before raising the blades.”

“That’s at his company,” said Phil. “It’s done differently here and lots of other places.”

Dave sued, arguing the forklift operator was negligent in leaving the forklift blades raised and by not anticipating something could go wrong. Did he win?

No, Dave lost. The judge said that the forklift operator couldn’t have anticipated that the delivery person would jump out the back of the truck.

Also, Dave’s second point – that at his company, the forklift operator waited for a signal to raise forklift blades – was not an industry standard. And a delivery person who offloads materials at various companies should know that. Thus, the company wasn’t legally responsible.

Supervisor’s take home
The delivery person lost the legal case, but made an important safety point: Delivery people and workers should use signals in noisy environments.

In this case, a quick chat between operator and delivery person could’ve prevented the accident.

At the very least, they should have discussed:

  • hand signals, and
  • procedures when the operator would raise the blades.

Cite: Mitchell, et al. v. Eureka Chemical, No. 07-510, E.D. La.

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