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California Employer Cited Following Death of Employee

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Weed, CA: A forklift trainee who had been on the job four months with Crystal Geyser Roxane (CGR) in Weed, California and suffered fatal injuries when the forklift he was operating at the job site tipped over, had passed all requisite safety and evaluation tests. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health(OSHA) nonetheless issued four citations against CGR following the death of the young trainee.

According to the Mt. Shasta Herald (05/10/17)) the victim was a temporary employee provided to CGR by Personnel Preference, a temp firm. Nathan Hubbard had been a trainee on the forklift for a period of four months, before “taking over the position as a qualified forklift operator,” according to a statement issued by CGR as part of its submission to OSHA.

On the day of the accident Hubbard had been operating the forklift when the mast of the machine struck the bottom of an overhead catwalk while the forklift was in motion, and the forklift began to tip. Hubbard – who had not been wearing the required seatbelt at the time – instinctively jumped clear of the forklift only to suffer crushing injuries when the forklift toppled on top of him. Hubbard did not survive.

It is not clear if the family of Hubbard has filed an OSHA lawsuit. However, Cal/OSHA is reported to have issued citations to CGR for violations of California labor code. Two citations classified as serious, according to the report, state that the forks were not carried as low as possible, and the forklift was not kept under “positive control” at all times.

In other words, the mast of the forklift – which is adjustable by the operator – had been too high for the forklift to be in motion, making the unit dangerously top-heavy. Striking the catwalk immediately above the moving forklift was the catalyst that led to the accident.

Two other violations cited by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) were more general in nature. One violation pertained to the California labor code which states an operator shall not “place any part of their bodies outside the running lines of an industrial truck or between mast uprights or other part of the truck where shear or crushing hazards exist.”

The other violation centered on the failure of Hubbard to use the restraint system provided as part of the forklift operator’s position. The California labor code states that where a manufacturer of heavy equipment provides an operator restraint – a seatbelt – in the operator’s compartment, the operator is required to wear the seatbelt and the employer should ensure the operator does so.

Hubbard was not wearing the restraint at the time of the accident, and attempted to jump clear of forklift as it tipped over. OSHA and California labor codes require the operator to be strapped in, and stay within the operator compartment in the event a piece of heavy equipment is up-ended for any reason.

CGR, according to the Herald report, appealed the OSHA citations. “The Company firmly believes that it took all steps a reasonable and responsible employer would take in the like circumstances, before the violation occurred, to anticipate and prevent the violation and took effective actions to eliminate employee exposure pursuant to Labor Code Section 6432(c).

“In an effort to mitigate the inherent risk of operating a forklift, the Company has established OSHA compliant procedures that are communicated to all individuals through extensive training relevant to preventing employee exposure to risk” and they ensure that employees have learned “all pertinent information via field session evaluations for operator proficiency and a written exam.”

Hubbard, according to documentation submitted to Cal/OSHA, had undertaken forklift safety and operation evaluation testing, had passed those tests, and had otherwise met all requirements.

The Bureau of Investigations is currently looking into the case, given that there was a fatality involved. Until then the case in on hold. CGR, which indicated it had taken steps to improve its compliance, appealed all four of the OSHA citations, which would result in combined penalties of $33,100 if convicted.

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