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In a tragic example of why equipment shouldn’t be modified to perform functions it wasn’t designed to do, a 77-year-old New York man was killed when he and a friend tried to use a tractor as a makeshift forklift.
The incident occurred Tuesday, October 27, at Chapman’s Fix-It Shop in rural Washington County, New York, just north of Albany. Police said business owner Robert J. Chapman and a buddy had “McGyver’ed” an old tractor so they could use it to lift pallets loaded with jugs filled with old cooking oil they were planning to repurpose as heating oil.
Something went wrong and Chapman was run over by the vehicle, which was being operated by his friend. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
No Charges Filed
The operator of the makeshift forklift was not identified, nor will he be charged, according to Washington County Sheriff’s Department investigator Matt Lohret. The driver was “very distraught” and “had been through enough,” he said.
There was no indication that the operator was impaired and there were no signs of foul play.
Several Factors Blamed
Investigators blamed the accident on the two men’s inexperience with the tractor, uneven terrain, and possible mechanical issues. The men apparently had rigged the vehicle to act as a lift truck, something it was never meant to be.
While this accident is tragic, it illustrates why mechanical equipment should never be modified beyond the uses it was engineered to perform. Trying to be too clever can result in an accident, in this case, a fatal one.
Always a Bad Idea
Forklift engineers perform extensive tests on their vehicles prior to manufacture to identify and remove any potential hazards. But they can’t anticipate somebody modifying their equipment in ways they never intended.
For example, one forklift owner decided he would add a computer to his vehicle to make it more efficient. What he didn’t take into account was that the computer would block the operator’s field of vision.
The result was that the vehicle driver ran over another worker, resulting in the amputation of his foot.
Check Manufacturer Specifications
Forklifts come with an owner’s manual for a reason: To explain how to properly use the vehicle and to define its limitations.
Using a forklift or any other piece of heavy equipment for purposes it was never intended is simply asking for trouble. If you are uncertain of your forklift’s capabilities, refer to the owner’s manual.
And if you intend to make your own modifications to your vehicle, it’s a good idea to check with the manufacturer first. Their engineers may have already considered the hazards and may be able to warn you about potential unintended complications.