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A forklift accident that severely injured a 33-year-old New Zealand woman could have been avoided, and now three companies have been fined a total of nearly $120,000 and ordered to pay the victim $20,000.
The accident occurred in May, 2013, at a kiwi fruit packing house in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand. Erica Machado had been straightening rows of boxes in an area of the pack out designated for the assembly of kiwi packaging trays when another worker driving a forklift accidentally backed into her.
Machado was rushed to a nearby hospital where she was treated for a fractured ankle and a large laceration to one of her legs. Machado had to undergo surgery during which pins were inserted into her ankle to help it heal.
Investigator: “Barriers Should Have Been in Place”
The company that employed the LRK Trays Limited — as well as the pack house operator and the company that employed the forklift driver — Orora Packaging Limited (formerly Amcor Packaging (NZ) Limited — all were convicted under New Zealand’s Health and Safety in Employment Act of not taking all practical steps to ensure that workers are not injured on the job.
Keith Stewart, chief investigator for WorkSafe New Zealand — that country’s counterpart to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration — said this accident was entirely avoidable.
“This incident could have been easily avoided if a barrier had been put in place to prevent the forklift from moving into the tray makers’ area,” Stewart said in an agency news release. “Without proper barriers of some form of isolation, an accident such as this was sadly predictable. All three companies should have done more to ensure that forklifts were kept well away from the area where Ms. Machado was working in.”
The Tauranga District Court ordered that the companies pay a find of $39,375 each in connection with the incident. In addition, the court ordered that the firms compensate Machado $20,000, splitting it evenly between the three of them.
Forklift/Pedestrian Collisions Common
The ruling is just the latest in which companies have been penalized for failing to segregate workers from forklifts.
Earlier this month, Americk Primopost — a maker of food wrappers and is located in Buxton, Derbyshire — was fined more than $50,00 and hit with another $5,000 in court fees in connection with an incident in which a worker was run over by a forklift.
In that incident — which occurred November 20, 2012, at the company’s manufacturing facility — Michael Booth, 42, had just delivered some cleaning materials to a co-worker who had been working on a machine when he stepped backwards, turned around and was struck by a forklift that was carrying a large reel of printed film.
Booth broke his right leg in three places and spent six days in the hospital where he underwent surgeries to have metal bars and pins inserted into his leg.
The UK’s Health and Safety Executive determined that the workplace was unsafe because Americk Primopost failed to provide separate pathways for pedestrians and forklifts and other industrial vehicles. Investigators also determined that the company should have provided a different, safer way to move materials around the factory floor, according to the website FoodManufacture.
The company has subsequently stopped using forklifts in its facility and now moves materials using pallet trucks.
And in December, 2011, a warehouse worker at Bookers Wholesale cash and carry in Avonmouth, UK was killed after she was run over by a forklift loading a truck with Pringles potato chips.
The worker — Ann Brennan, 49, of Lawrence, Weston, England — was throwing away a leaking bottle when she was run over by a forklift being driven by warehouse supervisor Ben Morris. The driver of the truck that being loaded by Morris said during the inquest that he had witnessed several near-misses between forklifts and pedestrians in the area in the past. He said that an earlier incident in which a Booker employee had a “bump” with a forklift led company officials to draw lines to segregate areas where pedestrians and vehicles were allowed.
In that incident, the company was fined $329,145 for not providing pedestrian walkways, among other violations.