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Construction Worker Dies When He Leans Out of the Protective Cage of A Skid Steer Forklift and Is Crushed

Investigation: # 03-OR-015-01

Cover photo
A 32-year-old construction worker was killed when he leaned out in front of the loader’s protective cage and the lift assembly came down crushing him. The skid steer’s load was approximately 3 feet off of the ground. A short length of 2X4 had been placed on the ground beneath the load to help stabilize it. It is believed that the victim first leaned out over the safety bar, to remove the short length of 2x4 with a hammer from his tool belt. His hammer was not long enough and the victim raised the safety bar and leaned his body outside of the protective operator’s cage in an attempt to again remove the 2X4. Witnesses at the scene stated that the victim’s tool belt contacted the actuators in the operator’s cage and the lift assembly lowered while he was leaning outside the operator’s cage. According to the equipment manufacturer both the operators seat and safety bar are interlocked on this model and the hydraulics should not have raised or lowered the lift, had they been working properly.

The OR FACE program received notice of this workplace fatality from a news service. The employer declined a site visit and interview. This report is based on information obtained from the local police report of the incident, information from the loss control specialist of a building trade association and various news reports.




On June 3, 2003, a 32-year old construction worker was killed while operating a skid steer forklift, when the lift assembly came down and crushed him. OR FACE received notification of this incident on June 16, 2003.

The employer declined an onsite evaluation and interview. This report was compiled from secondary sources including interviews with emergency responders, local police reports, the Medical Examiners report and death certificate, and reports and photographs from other official investigations.



The incident occurred in the parking lot of an active construction site. The victim worked for his father, the employer. On the day of the incident the victim and a co-worker were preparing to unload siding from the front of a skid steer. The siding was to be installed on a building under construction. The skid steer was parked in the parking lot and immediately adjacent to the building under construction. The parking lot was in the final stages of preparation for paving.

The victim is reported to have told a coworker that he would, “get in and move the skid steer” to facilitate the parking lot surface preparation. The victim, while still wearing his tool belt, entered the operator’s area to move the skid steer. According to an investigative report, the employer did have a policy of not operating equipment while wearing tool belts. The victim presumably was aware of this company policy, and a coworker saw that the victim was wearing his tool belt while operating the equipment, but did not intervene.

Photo 2. Position of safety bar following the incident.
Photo 2. Position of safety bar following the incident.

Once the victim was in the operator’s seat, he realized that a 2X4 was still under the load and that it needed to be removed before moving the skid steer. The victim leaned forward while still in the seat in an attempt to knock the 2X4 out, from under the load, with the claw end of his hammer. The hammer, however, was too short. According to those on scene, he next lifted the safety bar up and out of his way and either got on his knees, or stood up, in the operator’s cage and extended himself out of the protective operator’s enclosure to a point where he was actually under the lift assembly. When he moved to this position, his tool belt caught on an actuator causing the lift assembly to lower on him. His head was crushed between the forklift assembly and the frame of the machine. Photo 2. Position of safety bar following the incident.

Local police and EMS were called to the scene. The victim was entangled in the fork assembly and EMS crew had to extricate him to perform advanced life support. The victim was transported to a local hospital and pronounced dead shortly after arrival. A representative of the equipment manufacturer stated that the seat and the safety bar had an interlock function that should have prevented the lift mechanism from raising or lowering. Interviews with witnesses suggest that the safety interlock was not functioning properly at the time of the incident and may have been deactivated.



Severe head injury.



Discussion: Check all equipment and ensure that all safety systems are operational. All safety features that are not working properly should be reported and the equipment should not be used until repaired. Before returning equipment to service, check to ensure that all systems are operational and functioning as intended.

Discussion: The protective cage is designed to keep the operator safe while operating the skid steer loader. The front of the cage is open to maximize visibility from the operator’s seat. The safety bar is designed to deactivate the hydraulic systems if the worker leaves the seat and to remind the operator to stay seated inside the protective cage when operating the equipment. If an activity needs to be performed outside of the protective enclosure, the operator must turn off the equipment before exiting the enclosure.

Discussion: Skid steer operators should have training to ensure that they can operate the equipment safely. Only certified employees should operate equipment. Classroom training should be augmented with hands on sessions where skills can be observed. Periodic reassessment of skills should be done to ensure that equipment is being used safely.

Discussion: The company is reported to have a policy requiring employees to remove tool belts before operating equipment. The victim was wearing his tool belt while he was operating this equipment. The tool belt is depicted in Photo1. The tool belt is large and bulky and could easily interfere with safe operation or egress in the cramped operator’s cage.



The Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology at Oregon Health & Science University performs Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) investigations through a cooperative agreement with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Division of Safety Research (DSR). The goal of these evaluations is to prevent fatal work injuries in the future by studying the working environment, the worker, the task the worker was performing, the tools the worker was using, the energy exchange resulting in fatal injury, and the role of management in controlling how these factors interact.

To contact Oregon State FACE program personnel regarding State-based FACE reports, please use information listed on the Contact Sheet on the NIOSH FACE web site. Please contact In-house FACE program personnel regarding In-house FACE reports and to gain assistance when State-FACE program personnel cannot be reached.

Oregon FACE reports are for information, research, or occupational injury control only. Safety and health practices may have changed since the investigation was conducted and the report was completed. Persons needing regulatory compliance information should consult the appropriate regulatory agency.

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