Safety and OSHA News

Worker fatally struck in head by forklift

Here’s a reminder for forklift operators: Besides watching out for their own safety, they have to be aware of others around them.

Jesus Hernandez-Blas was killed when he was struck in the head by a forklift. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Hernandez-Blas was working in an industrial park in suburban Chicago for Resource Management, a recycling company.

The driver of the lift truck didn’t see Hernandez-Blas. Authorities speculate that dense fog may have contributed to the incident.

The forklift driver submitted to an alcohol test which he passed.

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  1. As a result of this incident will these particular forklifts have fog lights installed or will personnel working outside be required to wear some type of lighted vestments to prevent a repeat performance?

  2. Driving backwards everywhere on a forklift is safer then driving forward:

    1. You don’t have anything obstructing your view.
    2. The steering is in the direction that you are accustomed too like driving a car.
    3. You can see what’s around corners sooner.

    I can’t see where fog would be an issue since a forklift doesn’t move fast enough for you not to be able to see far enough ahead of you.

    I’ve learned of another incident where the forklift was being driven forward and there was a post in the blind spot of the driver, it was inline with the mast which blocked the operators vision. The forklift struck the post and the driver struck his head on the cage which killed him.

    That forklift driver will most likely be faced with criminal charges. He’s responsible for the safety of everything around him when operating that vehicle. He should have been using his horn.

  3. There seems to be some curious facts missing to this story. Forklifts are noisy, did the victim not hear the forklift approching? We may never know.
    Was he struck in the head by a fork? If so why would the driver be driving with the forks high enough to hit someone in the head? If not what part of the forklift hit him in the head?
    I am very sorry for both parties involved.
    Provisions for dense fog should have already been in place.

  4. Maybe it was an unlighted flightline and the pedestrian was wearing ear plugs. I agree with Linda. Provisions for dense fog should have already been in place. However, since it appears no type of safety initiatives were in place, has anything been done to prevent this from happening again? The questioned the driver about drinking but was the pedestrian sober as well? The article also doesn’t go on to say how fast the driver was going. Some of these forklifts appear to have a good amount of horsepower. 5MPH is our posted speed in the warehouse. Hurrying or trying to get more things done faster is not an excuse for speeding.

  5. If the guy was wearing earplugs then he placed himself in double jeopardy since vision was already restricted. Maybe he figured he could smell danger coming.

    If visibility was so restricted that they couldn’t see each other then the company shouldn’t have had any equipment in operation in the first place. Part of the blame is going to rest on the company.

    Furthermore, if the forklift was electric powered, they don’t make very much noise, which makes it especially important for the backing bell to work and to utilize that horn.

    Also Rob, most forklifts don’t have speedometers on them so it’s kind of hard to enforce a 5mph speed limit. Most forklifts travel at about 8-10mph with some of the newer ones getting up to 13mph.

    Even at 5mph, a 12,000lbs forklift hitting a 160lbs man is fatal. That 12,000lbs is going to be absorbed somewhere.

    A Navy Destroyer traveling at 1.15 or 1 knot straight into a pier will penetrate 100 feet into the pier.

    That’s from the inertia of all that weight.

    If there’s any negligence involved then someone will go to jail and that could range all the way up to the General Manager.

  6. He must of had a cold that morning because his sense of smell didn’t help him either. Good banter thanks for the feedback. We will never now all the details but if he was wearing ear plugs in a vision impaired zone he should win a Darwin Award.

  7. Since training and certification depends on your particular facilities and environment, the possibility of fog should have been factored in to training. Of course you can’t predict the weather – especially in a place like Chicago – but workers must be aware that their climate can be a hazard.

  8. Robert, I have to disagree with the assertion that it is safer to operate a forklift backwards. That is only true if the load restricts the view of the travel direction. Yes, the mast does provide some blind spots, but proper training takes care of that. The issue becomes one of ergonomics. An operator with a headache or backache from driving backwards all day could be a distracted operator. And what about the claims from operating a forklift in this manner?

  9. Fred,

    I didn’t just make that up. I learned that in Train the Trainer Forklift Safety Class.

    There were studies done and the results were that there were fewer accidents when forklifts were driven everywhere backwards. There are some companies that require forklifts to be driven backwards all the time based on those studies.

    It is directly related to the rear end of the forklift swinging wide that causes many accidents and when driving backwards the forklift handles much like driving a car.

    When driving forward, even with empty forks you still have the hazard of the mast creating a blind spot which has attributed to a forklift death.

  10. Robert, here is a link in which NIOSH investigators recommended operating in a forward travel direction when possible. This was after driving backwards contributed to a death.
    The OSHA e-tool for forklift training has this link: The implication in this link is that it is more dangerous to operate in reverse and cites fatal incidents which were attributed to operating the forklift in reverse. Remember, when operating in reverse, an operator cannot turn 180 degrees, so there will be a huge blind spot to one side. The studies I have seen indicate it is safer to operate in a forward motion on a sit-down forklift unless the load restricts the view of the travel direction. OSHA–and good sense–require travelling in the direction which offers the best view of the travel direction. When travelling, the forks should be carried just high enough to clear all parts of the floor.

  11. In many states, comp is the exclusive remedy. so it really doesnt matter from a legal perspective who was at fault.

  12. Fred,

    Thank you for the articles.

    One is dated 1992 and the other 1995. My Train the Trainer Forklift Operator Safety Program was done in 2006 at a Greylift Forklift dealership sponsored by Clark. That means that I am qualified to train forklift operators and issue licenses throughout the United States.

    I am perfectly aware that forklift accidents happen whether driving forward or backward. In training we were instructed that FEWER accidents happen when the forklift is driven exclusively backwards. Not backwards once in awhile. Even at my own facility I see people start backing up their forklifts without looking behind them first. That is an operator malfunction and would continue to take place if due diligence in enforcing forklift safety isn’t taking place.

    All these accidents are operator error. A huge factor is the operators becoming too comfortable with their working environment and taking safety for granted.

    In 1992 and 1995 the supervisor probably didn’t receive any administrative action against him nor the managers but the company might have gotten sued.

    Today both the supervisor and manager could face jail time if one of their forklift operators kill somebody if they can’t prove due diligence in training and enforcement.

  13. John Vaughan says:

    Having spent considerable amount of time around re-cycling centers I can attest to the fact that they are probably the most confusing, noisy, unsanitary and unsafe places I have ever been. I know there are going to be the exceptions but I am speaking amount the over two dozens places that I have been. The caliber or workers they employee is going to speak volumes about the safety practices and there is a good likelyhood that the operator was not certified. Maybe that have purposely left a lot of information out of this article to get us talking and the assumptions being made.

    As for criminal prosecution have you got to be kidding me right. OSHA is not to be feared! Out of about 6000 work related deaths per year, OSHA’s figures, how many times do you see someone successfully prosecuted. As for local police prosecution there is no way they would even investigate it much less prosecute it. It is not the fear of fines or the scare of being prosecuted that we should strive to have a safe work place. It is the fact that we are responsible for a human life.

  14. John,

    They didn’t prosecute much before. Now OSHA is following suit with the European OSHA, where they are making people accountable when there is a death related accident.

    Supervisors and Managers can protect themselves by keeping good records and keeping up with holding safety training at least once a month. They have to also be showing that they are exercising due diligence in enforcing the company’s safety policy.

    The first thing OSHA looks at when they show up is the company’s records and if the records are not kept up then they are going to assume that the company has a lackadaisical attitude towards safety and pursue management.

    If records are up to date and current then they can focus more on investigating if the operator was being negligent.

    Furthermore, people with drivers licenses get into careless accidents all the time, so just because a forklift operator gets into an accident really doesn’t have any bearing if they were certified or not. It will just be harder on him if it is shown that he was certified and harder on management if he was not.

    I read an article of a crane operator being sentenced to prison for not checking his cables before working and the cable broke, dropping his load and killing somebody. This was from an CAL-OSHA Newsletter that I am subscribed too.

    DOSHA is Cracking down and management no longer has the luxury of pointing the finger at someone else.

    Cranes and Forklifts are in the same category as being the most dangerous industrial equipment.

  15. John, you’re right about the prosecution. While I have heard stories of how someone could go to jail for negligence on a lift truck, including management, I can’t find anything that indicates that it has happened. Lawsuits, yes, but actual jail time, mmm, not so sure.

    Robert, you cited that studies indicated it was safer to always operate a lift truck in reverse. Please put the link to those studies in here. I’d like to read them. The recommendations from NIOSH from the 90s are still valid. By the way, I, too, am certifed as a trainer. Here are the instances when one should operate a forklift in reverse: (1) when it gives the operator a better view of the travel direction (1910.178 (n)(6).) Even with the mast, an operator without a load, or a load that does not reduce visibility forward, has a better view of the travel direction when travelling forward. We can’t turn our heads 180 degrees, so we cannot see both sides of an aisle when travelling backwards. (2) When descending a grade exceeding 10% (1910.178 (n)(7)(i).) The latter regulation REQUIRES travelling forks first when ascending a grade of over 10%. In an instance of that type, a ground guide is needed.
    Good discussion, folks.

  16. John Vaughan says:

    As safety professionals we need to share information if OSHA is actually prosecuting these tragics incidents. As a courtesy to all of us if anyone has web links or information on cases being prosecuted, especially the outcomes, would you please share.

  17. Robert, you’re last reply came across after I sent my last reply. We agree on one thing–good record keeping is absolutely essential in today’s environment. That is true not only for lift truck training but for anything in which the Feds could get involved: LO-TO, Blood-borne Pathogens, HAZCOM, EPA, FDA, DOT, etc., etc. While I haven’t been able to find evidence of actual criminal prosecution, I do know that it appears that OSHA will have more teeth under the current administration than it had earlier.

  18. I don’t have a link.

    My source is Bill Stromer, Director of Safety and Training at Graylift. His number is 559-268-6621. You can call him toll free at 800-464-3225.

  19. Charlie Tame says:

    I drove two types of electric truck for about 13 years. The conventional type and what the UK might call a “Reach” truck, that’s kinda like the things they use in Home Depot etc.

    Now, the reach truck is designed to be driven “Backwards” or “Sideways” depending on operator position (Sitting or standing) and over the years I have made a number of observations. Reach trucks can generally be more dangerous to the operator as on a stand up truck you are among the first things to hit an obstruction, I mean you personally. The view is usually much better so you are far less likely to hit someone else. Also, as Robert noted you get to see around corners first. In my experience I have seen several distracted people walk round a corner into a stationary reach truck and because the back of it was flat and smooth no injury occurred.

    These things also apply in most cases to a conventional truck being driven backwards and once again I have to say that I can think of several occasions related to narrow gangways and blind corners where some distracted employee might have walked into my path unseen had I been going forwards. Forwards is fine in relatively open areas with good peripheral visibility.

    In a noisy factory the horn does not always help as people get “Immune” to the sound. Often ear defenders are mandatory too.

    In addition, if travelling forward you slam on the brakes it’s likely the load will fall off, backwards you can brake as hard as you like and the worst that will happen is you’ll skid with most loads.

    The other problem of course which may seem trivial but could sill be deadly is that at a blind corner you empty forks are not visible easily (Cause you are supposed to travel with them as close to the ground as possible) so that distracted employee is likely to either step on them or trip over then and wind up coming literally face to face with a mast and forks that are full of sharp corner and angles, not pretty.

    So I have to say that no matter what OSHA or anyone else says my personal experience is that backwards is generally safer provided that the operator is a “Safe” operator. Yes there are times when forward is safer, for example when dealing with a difficult load, but for those time I usually got a colleague to go in front and watch for other people at the same time watching my “Corners”.

    Now here’s a thing, one place I was supposed to wear a hard hat at all times. It was very hot and and I was trying locate a pallet of steel wire in a double row if pallets that were 4 high. A colleague was trying to pick up a pallet in the ground in the row behind where I was. Can I say forks a little too far in? Just out the corner of my eye I saw the 4 high stack I was standing by start to move and without thinking much dropped the hard hat and ran like hell. By the time it all hit the ground I had managed to climb up two pallets out of the way of the rolling steel coils.

    Ironically the company safety officer had just walked by and said “Good Morning” to me and when he got back there was a big pile of steel coils right where I had been standing and of course I was by now 3 pallets high and at the end of the row. Thought both he and my colleague were going to have a heart attack until I shouted down to them “Looking for someone?”

    Nothing to say about the hard hat, except it’s probably good that my head wasn’t in it, and see the memory I have of this incident is that the peak of the hard had would have prevented me from seeing that fist little movement that started me running.

    Lift trucks are immensely useful tools and can be safely used for things that are not immediately obvious, but a wise operator never underestimates the sheer power, crushing ability and weight of them. Useful tool, deadly enemy.

    Reminds me of a sign in the Emedco Catalog, it reads CAUTION, this machine has no brains… USE YOURS.

    So I don;t want to disagree with Fred or anyone else but I have to say my experience tends to agree with Robert’s view.

  20. Please remember electric forklifts are quiet and do not have exhaust smell as a warning property, which is not effective anyway depending on the airflow in the area, also Recyling places are loud.

    Here’s a link to the Washington State OSHA program with a good downloadable video for pedestrian safety around forklifts.

    Actually, they have quite afew useful online videos that you can access at the link below, FREE.

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