Several years ago, a 39-year-old Virginia worker was operating a Hyster forklift in order to move a large roll of paper. His vehicle became stuck, so another forklift driver hooked a chain around it in order to unjam it. Once the forklift was out of the jam and able to drive again, the worker set the parking brake and stepped off the forklift in order to remove the chain used to tow the forklift. That was when the forklift suddenly rolled backwards and crushed the worker between the two forklifts. The worker died from severe blunt force injuries and died at the hospital that day.
As it turns out, the worker had only begun his forklift training, but never completed it. He ultimately should not have been told to operate the forklift in the first place.
The worker’s wife filed a third-party lawsuit against the manufacturer of the forklift, given that the evidence seemed to focus on whether the forklift’s parking brake was part of a defective design. Apparently, the forklift did not have a parking position. Rather, the parking break works similarly to the way a parking brake would for a manual car. Moreover, the forklift brakes are made to be specific in how much tension is applied to the brake before it actually stops the vehicle. The jury awarded the worker’s wife $4.2 million for negligent design on the forklift manufacturer’s part.
In this particular situation, there were several things that could have prevented this workplace fatality. First off, the company should not have put that worker on the forklift in the first place, given that he was not fully trained. Companies that use heavy machinery in the workplace need to ensure that all employees are properly trained in how to use it. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), proper training has been shown to reduce the number of accidents in the workplace.
The more obvious thing that could have prevented this accident is if the forklift had a more intuitive design. Defective forklift designs are more common than they should be and often include:
Many forklift manufacturers do not build forklifts with safety in mind and are still allowed to put their products on the market. Employers are responsible for making sure their employees are using quality machinery that has been tested for safety.
Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot, L.L.P. is a personal injury law firm that fights for victims of workplace accidents in Virginia, Washington and Maryland.