Risky Business — What goes up...
Risky Business — What goes up...

The addition of a superhighway was instrumental in the decline of a small town. Townsfolk began passing by the little burg to travel down the highway to a larger city a few miles away. Town commissioners re-paved the old highway with hopes that improving the road and sprucing up the area would lure businesses and shoppers back to the downtown district.

Fairly rapidly, an office-retail plaza was added along with a shopping center, several hotels and affordable housing. The town commissioners’ plan had worked and the city was making a comeback.

The area’s most active builder was responsible for heading up several key commercial and residential projects. His most recent venture was a new hotel in the heart of the city. The hotel was nearing completion and the builder made a visit to the job site to take a tour of the building.

The builder was pleased as he pulled up to the job site and saw the hustle and bustle of his crew as they brought his latest creation to life. The site held machinery of all shapes, sizes and colors. The construction company owned several pieces of equipment, but relied on a rental store in town for the machines they did not have in their inventory. For this particular job, a 56-ft. telescopic forklift had been rented from the rental store and they had been using it for several weeks.

The employees of the construction company fabricated a box that was designed to slide onto the forks of the lift. The employees could gather debris from the upper levels of the building for easy transport back to the dumpsters on the ground. The employees often took the “short cut” and rode in the box on the forklift along with the debris.

The builder walked around the building site and was pleased to discover that everything was proceeding according to plan. When the time came to go up into the building, the builder and his foreman climbed into the box on the forklift and moved up the side of the hotel as many of the men had done for weeks.

As the box containing the men approached the third story, the builder lost his footing and stumbled. He landed hard against the side of the box and it gave way. The builder tumbled to the ground. Paramedics were called and the builder was airlifted to the hospital where he was pronounced dead from injuries he sustained in the fall.

The police department notified the rental store that its forklift had been involved in a fatal accident. The manager of the store was sent to the job site to photograph the scene before anything was moved. Sometime after the photos were taken, the debris box was removed from the forklift. It was found in a dumpster adjacent to the scene of the accident. The contractor later admitted he was aware the forklift should not have been operated with the box attached to the forks and attempted to hide the home-made debris box.

The owner of the rental store immediately notified its insurance company of the accident and a claim was filed. The adjuster assigned to the claim was able to confirm through witness statements that there was not an equipment defect or malfunction. Witnesses reluctantly admitted that the machine was operating properly, they were aware that they should not have built and added the debris box, and human error caused the accident.

Prominently displayed warning labels on the machine and the owner’s manual included with the rented forklift warned not to allow riders. The warning label clearly stated, “NEVER allow passengers to ride with you on the forklift. This forklift is designed for ONE PERSON operation only.”

The owner’s manual stated that “this forklift is designed to lift and transport materials and must not be used to elevate personnel. Only equipment designed specifically to elevate personnel may be used for this purpose.”

The estate of the deceased man did not present a claim or file suit against the rental store. They likely realized the actions that led to the builder’s death were not the fault of the rental store.

The rental store did everything correctly. Prior to every rental, they made certain that all warning decals, special instructions and operator’s manuals were legible and stored in the proper location. Every customer was shown how to turn the equipment on and off, and how to operate each feature of the machine. Customers were told how to operate the machine, shown how it functioned and also given the opportunity to show they knew what they were doing in a hands-on demonstration.

Mary Ann Gormly, CERP, is risk management coordinator for ARA Insurance, Kansas City, Mo. For more information, call 800-821-6580
or visit ARAinsure.com.