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Forklift Driver Killed After Touching Power Lines with Vehicle

The death of a 59-year-old Florida man who was electrocuted after his forklift came into contact with overhead power lines shows the potential dangers of combining heavy metal machinery and electricity.

On August 1, Richard Dewayne Lancaster was apparently driving his forklift while working at Raffield Fisheries, in Highland View, Florida, when his vehicle apparently became entangled in power lines, according to the Gulf County Sheriff’s Police.

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A caller to 911 said Lancaster had been shocked by electricity and was unconscious. When emergency personnel arrived on the scene, they found the man unresponsive still sitting inside his forklift. Lancaster was transported to Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf, in nearby Port St. Joe, where he was pronounced dead.

Forklifts Conduct Electricity

Most forklifts are made mostly of steel and their masts can be extended high into the air where they potentially can come into contact with live power lines. That makes forklifts especially prone to accidents involving electricity. If the vehicle comes into direct contact with live wires, the metal in the forklift can easily serve as a conductor and transmit the powerful electric charge and the operator can be electrocuted.

To ensure safety, operators need to be aware of any power lines or other potential dangers before beginning any job. All work areas should be physically inspected and potential hazards identified. If there are power lines in the area, workers need to take extreme caution to avoid making contact with them.

If you can’t tell if hanging wires are power lines or phone lines, fiber optic cables, or some other type of wiring, always err on the side of caution and assume they are live wires. It’s safer to always assume the worst rather than being surprised if you guess wrong.

What to Do If You Touch Live Wires

Some forklifts have insulated operator cabins that protect against electric shock should the vehicle come into direct contact with electricity. But that doesn’t mean the operator is invulnerable to danger.

If the forklift touches an overhead power line, stay in the vehicle and warn others to keep away. Keep still and avoid touching anything in the forklift, especially anything made out of metal. Wait as long as it takes for confirmation that the power has been disconnected or isolated before leaving the cabin. Then, if you are able, move the forklift off the power line.

Victim was a Former Sea Captain

Lancaster had worked at Raffield Fisheries for more than 20 years. He served as captain of the vessels “Fisherman’s Pride” and “Salty”. Most recently, he spent most of his time making and repairing nets, a skill he had learned as a young man and he apparently had a talent for it, according to his obituary.

Ironically, Lancaster recently survived a brush with death. Back in December of 2010, Lancaster was involved in a boating accident at Jupiter Beach where he and two other men survived hypothermia after being stuck in the water for hours, according to a report from WMBB-TV, the ABC affiliate in Panama City.


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