Fatal Forklift Accident Leads to Fines

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Photo Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society via Wikimedia Commons

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration has levied a fine of $168,700 against the owners of a company doing business on Detroit’s waterfront in connection with a fatal forklift accident that occurred at the facility last year.

Nicholson Terminal & Dock Co. was found by OSHA to be in violation of seven serious safety citations and two willful violations, according to news reports. The company also was placed in the agency’s severe violator enforcement program for companies demonstrating indifference through willful, repeated or failure-to-abate violations.

The fines stem from a fatal accident that occurred at the company’s waterfront facility in Detroit on November 19, 2013. A 62-year-old employee was killed after he was struck and run over by a 62,000 pound capacity forklift carrying a 40,000 pound steel coil.

Improperly Modified Forklift

Among the willful citations was one for modifying the forklift without obtaining manufacturer approval. Nicholson reportedly removed a light beacon and overhead rear-view mirror from the Taylor forklift, according to news reports. It also failed to stop a hydraulic leak on mast tilt cylinders of another Taylor vehicle and failed to properly maintain a Taylor forklift.

A second willful violation was issued for failing to establish vehicle routes or traffic rules and post signs to indicate the existence of pedestrian traffic where employees work, according to OSHA. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirement or with plain indifference for employee safety and health.

OSHA also found that insufficient inspections led to the failure of safe working load markings and functional components of two Manitowoc lattice boom crawler cranes.

Failed to Provide Training

The serious violations involving forklift safety included failing to train employees on operating instructions, warnings and precautions listed in the vehicle owners’ manual; failing to maintain vehicles in safe working order and failing to direct workers to sound the horn when visibility was obstructed.

Other OSHA citations were issued for failing to conduct monthly crane inspections and test cargo gear for load capacity.

Larry M. Johnson, area director of the OSHA office in Lansing, Michigan, said because Nicholson neglected its training responsibility, “a worker tragically lost his life.”

“A worker’s life should never be the cost of doing business,” Johnson said.

The proposed penalty for each willful citation is $70,000. The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply with OSHA’s findings, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Nicholson offers stevedoring services and processes general cargo through marine terminals in Detroit and nearby Ecorse, Michigan. The company, which is headquartered in Detroit, has about 75 employees and owns the largest terminal facilities in the state of Michigan with 5,500 feet of dock length and 199,800 square feet of covered storage. The Detroit facility has more than 80 acres of yard space.


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