Forklift Operator Overcome by Fumes from Propane-Powered Vehicle

703px-Balance_justiceA forklift driver at a New Zealand asparagus company was hospitalized for two days after he was overcome by propane exhaust fumes while operating his vehicle in an enclosed cooler.

Now the company that employed the driver has been fined $26,000 and ordered to pay the man $17,000 for not informing him that it was a bad idea to operate a propane in a non-ventilated workspace.

Working in a Cooler

The original incident occurred last April 14 at Boyds Asparagus Industries Limited at its asparagus facility in Cambridge, New Zealand. The operator, who was employed by another company — Core Management Limited — using his forklift to sort stock in a refrigerated unit that measured 12 meters long by 7 meters wide and 5 meters high.

The unit had only one door. After working in the cooler for less than an hour, other workers discovered the driver passed out on the floor. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he remained unconscious for several hours and where he remained for treatment for two days, according to local news reports.

An Experienced Operator

Despite the fact that the operator had driven a forklift for the past 20 years, Boyd Asparagus was charged with failing to take all practicable steps to ensure an employee was healthy and safe at work. Company officials pled guilty to two counts of violating the country’s Health and Safety in Employment Act.

The incident illustrates the importance of educating workers on the dangers of operating forklifts in enclosed spaces. In this instance, Boyd Asparagus did not identify the carbon monoxide hazard created by the exhaust of the liquid propane gas-fueled forklift the operator was using inside the cooler.

The court also found that the company did not train employees on the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning while using LPG forklifts in small spaces.

Government Agency Steps In

Keith Stewart, New Zealand WorkSafe’s chief inspector, said carbon monoxide poisoning is often associated with propane-fueled space heaters, as well as running LPG forklifts in enclosed spaces.

The company failed to ensure that workers used only electric forklifts inside coolers, as well as not putting up signs warning them not to operate LPT forklifts in their refrigerators.

New Zealand’s workplace safety agency has information available to businesses like Boyd Asparagus that talks about the risk of using forklifts that have carbon monoxide exhaust. WorkSafe’s Clean Air program works to raise awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide and how they can be eliminated or controlled.


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