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May 22, 2018

Hard Safety Lessons from a San Francisco Forklift Accident

On May 7, prosecutors filed charges against a San Francisco lumber company's owner and manager. One of their forklift operators died in a November 2016 incident. The accident was completely preventable.

Here's why prosecutors are right to charge the owner & manager for their employee's death. We'll also cover what went wrong in this incident…and what you can do to prevent it happening at your company.

The Incident

The San Francisco Chronicle's May 7 article detailed the 2016 accident. From the article:

Ruan was killed just before 2 p.m. on Nov. 21, 2016, when his forklift tipped over at the bottom of a ramp leading from the company’s loading dock. He had been descending the ramp with a bag of mortar mix on a wooden pallet to load into a customer’s car, when the bag fell off and blocked his front wheel.

When Ruan tried to back up to free the wheel, he rolled off the ramp. Ruan tried to jump to safety as his forklift began tilting over, but just as he jumped, he was hit by the forklift and crushed.

Ruan was not wearing a seat belt. He was also not certified to operate the forklift, according to Cal/OSHA. The ramp was in violation of state workplace safety regulations because it should have had a curb to prevent the forklift from going over the side.

Now the company's owner and manager are charged with "Involuntary Manslaughter," as well as "Causing an Unsafe Work Environment Resulting in Death." Not only that, but they received six OSHA violations…a $62,320 fine.

SF Chronicle Forklift Accident
Image courtesy of

Could your business survive a Manslaughter charge and $62,320 in fines?

What Went Wrong: 7 Safety Violations

First things first: This was a horrible accident. No one wanted it to happen. But it did…and it was preventable. Let's look at why.

From the description above, we can see several safety violations and neglect of safety practices. Some are the operator's responsibility. Some are the company's.

The operator's responsibility:

  • No seatbelt worn.
  • Jumping out of the forklift as it tipped. The forklift's cage would have protected him. He should have known that, but the operator did not have up-to-date safety training.
  • Load was not restrained.

The company's responsibility:

  • No curb on the loading ramp.
  • Did not require the operator to attend safety training.
  • No supervisor monitoring.

How to Prevent Forklift Accidents at Your Workplace

Safety measures that would have stopped the death:

  1. Curbs on loading ramps. Not only do they protect against driving off the ramp, they're a visual aide which operators can follow.
  2. Restraints available for pallet loads in several easy-to-see locations. It may seem like overkill to tie down one cement bag. But it only took one to cause this accident.
  3. Safety Training for all employees & managers, required & tracked.
  4. Supervisors monitoring operations. We do not know for sure whether a supervisor was on duty that day. But if a supervisor had seen the cement bag slide off, he/she could have sounded an alarm & maybe prevented the accident.
  5. Posted reminders to follow safety procedures like wearing hard hats, putting on safety belts, etc.

You can implement all of these at your workplace, too. Some you may already have.

Of these, the most important is easily Safety Training for all. No exceptions. Equip everyone with the awareness to spot any of these violations (e.g. the lack of seat belt, or the unrestrained cement bag).

If one person had spotted this and called it out, Mr. Ruan may still be alive today.

Incidents Like This Make the Case for Safety Training

We really wish it didn't take accidents to prove the need for regular safety training. But they do. One safety training course would have made the difference between life and death.

It is everyone's responsibility to maintain a safe working environment. Especially the on-site managers. You can, and absolutely need to, prevent accidents like this from happening at your workplace.

Until next month!

Marshall Cromer, The Forklift Boss
Cromer Material Handling

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