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A young man in the U.K. was recently killed in a tragic forklift accident just 2 days before his 18th birthday. While any forklift death is cause for concern, this one was particularly shocking because it would not have occurred in any warehouse that took even basic forklift safety seriously.
According to the article in the popular United Kingdom publication, the Mail Online, Niall Paige was crushed against a wall by a forklift in the warehouse where he worked as an apprentice. The forklift operator who struck the young man had no excuses other than “we all picked up bad habits” and “I didn’t see him,” but further reading reveals a workplace environment that gave no consideration at all to forklift safety.
As an apprentice, Niall was a frequent victim of pranks by co-workers. Reportedly, having apprentices stand on pallets and raising them to unsafe heights was standard practice in the warehouse. Management encouraged this practice in order to save money and the reckless staff made matters worse by deliberately jiggling the pallets at height to throw apprentices off balance. It was all in “fun,” but it wasn’t fun for the terrified apprentice, who had to hold on for dear life while co-workers laughed and even videotaped the prank.
Niall had been standing on a pallet when the accident occurred. After he jumped off the pallet, the operator moved forward, pinning him against a wall and crushing his chest. Niall died a few hours later from cardiac arrest caused by internal bleeding.
The list of workplace safety abuses that led to the fatal forklift death goes on, starting at the senior management level. According to evidence heard at the inquest following the death, workers “were encouraged by senior staff to ‘cut corners’ by jumping on the pallets and being raised up to scan in items stored on shelves.” Everyone at the warehouse was aware of the safety rule that clearly states that items were to be scanned at ground level, but a former employee who testified at the hearing said, “I just kept quiet because I didn’t want to lose my job.”
Unfortunately, forklift safety isn’t always taken seriously until a serious or fatal accident occurs and graphically demonstrates the importance of forklift safety. It will be little comfort to Niall’s parents to know that their son’s death served as an example to others, though. They had been pleading with him to quit his job because they felt he was being taken advantage of, but he insisted on working because he wanted to earn his keep.
To paraphrase an oft-repeated quote about guns: “Forklifts don’t kill people. People kill people” Whether it’s a brand new lift truck with all the latest safety features or a used or reconditioned forklift, a forklift is only as safe as its operator. Cultivate an environment of forklift safety and you’ll have a safer, happier, and more productive workplace.