Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program
A Plumber Was Killed When a Skid-Steer Loader Tipped Forward and Struck Him in the Head
A 50-year-old plumber working for a construction company subcontractor died on February 5, 2005 from head trauma he received after being struck in the head by a skid-steer loader that tipped forward. The victim had been installing a section of pipe in the ground next to a newly constructed foundation. The victim was standing in an open-end trench that was 2-feet 9-inches deep and 5-feet 8-inches wide. The victim was placing a PVC sleeve around a cut-off valve while a coworker used a skid-steer loader to backfill with sand. As the skid-steer loader approached the access edge of the trench, the skid-steer loader shifted in the damp/wet dirt and the loader tipped forward. The bucket of the loader struck the victim’s head and then pinned his arm between the bucket and the trench wall. The victim’s arm was pinned under the loader bucket for approximately 10 minutes until the fire department arrived and freed the victim. He was then transported by helicopter to the hospital and pronounced dead shortly after arrival.
Oklahoma Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (OKFACE) investigators concluded that to help prevent similar occurrences, employers should:
A plumber working for a construction company subcontractor died on February 5, 2005 from head trauma received when he was struck in the head by a skid-steer loader that tipped forward. OKFACE investigators were notified of the incident, and an interview with company officials was conducted on May 4, 2005. OKFACE investigators also reviewed the death certificate, investigating officer’s video, and reports from the Medical Examiner and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Employer: The victim was employed by a plumbing subcontractor on a multi-employer work site A general contractor acted as the controlling employer of the work site and hired the subcontractor to install sewer and water piping, excavate and backfill all underground piping, connect to sewer and water utilities, and install all plumbing fixtures. The plumbing subcontractor had been in business for 28 years and employed approximately 60 people at the time of incident. The subcontractor had been working at the site for less than one month. The subcontractor had a safety program, but did not have written procedures in place for the task being performed. The subcontractor was responsible for the safety of their employees and for providing all instructions to them.
On the day of the incident, the general contractor did not have a representative on site. General contractor officials stated that before the incident, it was verbally expressed to all subcontractors that a contractor representative must be on site at all times while work was being performed. A written contract existed between the general contractor and subcontractor that specified the subcontractor comply with OSHA regulations and a requirement that all workers wear hard hats.
Victim: The 50-year-old victim had more than 20 years of experience as a plumber in the construction business working for the same plumbing company. He spent the previous 10 1/2 years as a job foreman for his employer. At the time of the incident, he was performing tasks for which he had many years of experience. Neither employee was wearing a hard hat at the time of the incident.
Training: At least two subcontractor employees had excavation/trenching training, but they were not at the site on the day of the incident. The subcontractor conducted monthly safety meetings and provided cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid training. The employee operating the skid-steer loader at the time of incident received on the job training in skid-steer loader operation but did not receive formal training in safe operation of machinery or hazard recognition.
Incident Scene: The victim and his coworker were the only two people working at the commercial construction site. Both employees were working during the weekend as instructed by their immediate supervisor, but the general contractor had no knowledge that subcontractor employees were working on the day of the incident. They were preparing the site for installation of a one-inch water pipe. The 5-foot 8-inch wide open-ended trench sloped from ground level downward to a depth of 2-feet 9-inches. The deep end of the trench stopped a few inches from a newly constructed foundation wall. The soil around the sloped trench was damp/wet and the bottom of the trench was muddy.
Weather: On the day of the incident, the weather conditions were cool with overcast clouds.
On the day of the incident, the victim and one coworker, an apprentice plumber and equipment operator, were on site to prepare for the installation of a one-inch water pipe. The victim had installed a pipe on the outside of a newly constructed foundation wall 24 inches below ground level. A 3-foot long 6-inch diameter PVC sleeve was placed around the water pipe cut-off valve to allow for future access. The non-written procedure was to backfill the excavation with sand. The plumber was standing in the trench supporting the pipe to prevent movement or breakage of the pipe while sand was poured around the pipe.
The victim was in the trench holding the sleeve over the valve with his right hand, while his coworker used a skid-steer loader (Figure 1) to haul a bucket of sand over to the area and the victim used his left-hand to guide him. The skid-steer loader bucket was filled with sand (Figure 2) and the bucket was elevated higher than the victim’s head. As the coworker approached the edge of the trench, the left tire shifted in the damp/wet dirt and the skid-steer loader tipped forward (Figure 3). The victim had a shovel in the trench to place sand around the sleeve, but the pair were attempting to dump the sand directly from the loader. As the skid-steer loader tipped forward, the bucket struck the victim in the head and then pinned his left arm against the wall of the excavation.
The coworker immediately dismounted the loader, observed the victim’s situation, and used a cell phone to dial 911. The local fire department arrived at the scene in less than five minutes. The winch and a cable from the fire department’s brush truck was used to stabilize and tip the loader backwards, freeing the victim’s arm. The victim was transported by helicopter to the hospital and pronounced dead shortly after arrival to the emergency room.
Cause of Death
The Medical Examiner’s report listed the cause of death as head trauma.
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Recommendation # 1: Employers should ensure that employees are not positioned underneath elevated loads handled by lifting or digging machinery.
Discussion: Employers should ensure that employees are not positioned underneath elevated loads during loading or unloading. Employees positioned under elevated loads can be struck by spillage or falling materials. According to OSHA standards, no employee shall be permitted underneath loads handled by lifting or digging equipment. Backfill material could have been placed into the excavation with the skid-steer loader bucket without the victim standing in the trench. After backfill material had been placed under the water pipe, the victim could have held the PVC sleeve in place while his coworker used the available shovel to finish placing and packing sand around the sleeve and water pipe.
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