Worker Killed When a Section of Pipeline Crashed Through Excavator Cab and Struck Him in the Chest During a Tandem Lift—West Virginia

NIOSH FACE Report 2013-05
June 22, 2017


On Sunday, December 16, 2012, at approximately 6:37 p.m., a 44-year-old male excavator operator died after being struck in the chest by a section of 16-inch gas pipeline. Two excavator operators were using a tandem lift[1] procedure to transport a 128-foot section of the pipe from a construction area (top of hill) to an installation area (bottom of hill). The two excavators were on the right side of the pipe, and the operators needed to maneuver around the pipe prior to moving it down to the installation area. Both excavators were attached to the pipe with slings, approximately 20 feet from each end of the pipe. The lead operator lowered his end, detached from the pipe, and positioned his excavator on the left side of the pipe; once on the left side, he reattached to the pipe and raised it off the ground. The operator of the rear excavator attached at the opposite end (rear) of the pipe, then raised the pipe off the ground to cab height and maneuvered the excavator around the end of the pipe while swinging the boom of the excavator. When the pipe was in line with the excavator cab, the pipe plunged through the front windshield, entering the cab and striking the operator in the chest. Police, emergency medical services, and the medical examiner arrived, and the excavator operator was pronounced dead at the scene.

[1]A tandem lift is the simultaneous use of two or more pieces of powered lifting equipment; a tandem lift is a critical lift if the lifted load is to be moved laterally [Work Safe BC 2012].


Key contributing factors identified in this investigation include:

  • Lack of tandem lifting procedures.
  • Communication between operators and ground workers.
  • Visibility of the work area including the lifted load.


NIOSH investigators concluded that, to help prevent similar occurrences, employers should:

  • Implement a comprehensive safe work procedure for tandem lifting operations and a site-specific safety plan/lift plan.
  • Provide worker training that includes hazard recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions.
  • Implement an effective method of communication between excavator operators and ground workers.
  • Ensure use of adequate lighting during all work activities.


Worker Killed When a Section of Pipeline Crashed Through Excavator Cab and Struck Him in the Chest During a Tandem Lift—West Virginia pdf icon[PDF 910 KB]


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an institute within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. In 1982, NIOSH initiated the Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program. FACE examines the circumstances of targeted causes of traumatic occupational fatalities so that safety professionals, researchers, employers, trainers, and workers can learn from these incidents. The primary goal of these investigations is for NIOSH to make recommendations to prevent similar occurrences. These NIOSH investigations are intended to reduce or prevent occupational deaths and are completely separate from the rulemaking, enforcement and inspection activities of any other federal or state agency. Under the FACE program, NIOSH investigators interview persons with knowledge of the incident and review available records to develop a description of the conditions and circumstances leading to the deaths in order to provide a context for the agency’s recommendations. The NIOSH summary of these conditions and circumstances in its reports is not intended as a legal statement of facts. This summary, as well as the conclusions and recommendations made by NIOSH, should not be used for the purpose of litigation or the adjudication of any claim. For further information, visit the program website at or call toll free at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).

Page last reviewed: June 27, 2017