Commercial Route Refuse Collector Crushed When Refuse Truck Slid Into Semi-Truck Trailer

Missouri FACE Investigation: #93MO008


A 57 year-old refuse collector died as a result of being crushed between his refuse truck and a parked semi-truck trailer. The refuse truck had become stuck on a snow covered driveway of a commercial loading dock. A wrecker truck was trying to pull the refuse truck from the driveway when the front of the truck unexpectedly slid sideways to the left, striking the trailer. The victim was exiting the driver side door when the truck impacted the trailer and he was pinned between the door and truck cab.

The MO FACE investigator concluded that to prevent future similar occurrences employers should:

  • recognize winching and towing heavy equipment, such as refuse trucks, should be approached cautiously and may involve unforeseen circumstances
  • only permit heavy equipment to be towed or winched without a driver or operator in the vehicle
  • develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive safety program that includes, but is not limited to, training in hazard recognition and avoidance


On February 26, 1993, a 57-year-old refuse collector died as a result of injuries received when the refuse truck he was operating slid sideways into a parked semi-truck trailer. The truck was under tow from a snow-covered driveway when the victim exited the driver’s side door and suffered crushing injuries when the truck struck the trailer. The Missouri Department of Health FACE Investigator was notified of the fatality on February 27, 1993, by a news broadcast on a local radio station. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not investigate the incident as they do not have jurisdiction over government agencies in Missouri. Records obtained regarding this incident include the police report, the coroners report, the death certificate, and the site photographs. The MO FACE investigator interviewed the city officials and the director of the city refuse department.

The municipality involved employs 155 persons. The city’s sanitation department has been in operation for more than 40 years. The victim was the sanitation department’s only commercial route refuse collector. The municipality had a safety program and a safety coordinator. Employees were trained on the job, in the classroom, and with safety videos. All refuse collection vehicles were equipped with two-way radios through which personnel are to contact the dispatcher in the event of an emergency. The victim had been employed in the sanitation department for 15 years.


The community where this incident took place had received up to six inches of new snow over a 24-hour period prior to this incident. On the day of the incident, the victim was assigned his normal commercial refuse collection route. He routinely operated a front-loading refuse collection truck. The truck was designed so the operator can drive up to a commercial dumpster, pick up the dumpster with a set of hydraulic forks, and dump the contents into the truck’s compactor bay. This can all be accomplished without the driver exiting the truck. The victim had operated this vehicle all day, and was servicing his last stop when the incident occurred.

The collector had entered the driveway of a loading dock where a company dumpster was located. He loaded the dumpster contents into the truck’s compactor bay and returned the dumpster to its original location. He placed the truck in reverse gear and started to back out of the driveway when the rear tires began to spin and the rear of the truck slid to the left, slightly impacting into a parked semi-truck trailer. The victim contacted the city’s public works dispatcher on the truck’s two-way radio and requested assistance in getting the truck out of the snow-covered driveway. The public works dispatcher contacted the sanitation department supervisor and a local business with a wrecker service. The supervisor drove to the incident site and met the refuse collector and the wrecker truck at the location of the stuck refuse vehicle (incident site). At the incident site, the victim, the victim’s supervisor, and the wrecker truck operator discussed how they were going to get the truck out of the driveway. Because the truck was positioned against the neighboring trailer, they wanted to move the truck away from the trailer and out of the driveway. Diagram #1 outlines the position of the refuse truck and the wrecker truck just before the incident. After the three men discussed the situation, it was agreed that the victim would get into the refuse truck and turn the truck’s wheels to the left. The wrecker operator would position his truck on the street, to the right of the refuse truck, and attach his truck-mounted winch to the left rear bumper of the truck. The men were anticipating that by turning the refuse trucks wheels and pulling the truck to the right, the truck would slide to the right, away from the trailer. The supervisor then left the incident site, and the victim and the wrecker operator began the task.

Diagram of incident site.

Diagram #1

The victim helped the wrecker operator hook a chain around the bumper and attach the winch cable to the chain. The victim entered the truck and turned the truck’s wheels to the left. The operator’s vision was obscured by the refuse truck and he could not see the victim while operating the wrench. The operator then took up the slack cable and began winching the truck from its original position. As the rear of the refuse truck was pulled away from the trailer, the front of the truck pivoted to the left and impacted the trailer. The wrecker operator stated he heard a “whoa” shouted by the victim. The operator was not aware that the victim was exiting the truck when it hit the trailer. The operator stopped winching on the truck when he heard the victim yell, and went to the refuse truck to investigate. When the operator came around the side of the truck he saw the victim pinned in the doorway.

Because the victim was pinned so tightly, he could not be immediately removed. The operator contacted emergency personnel and an ambulance, and rescue personnel were summoned to the scene. Upon arrival the rescue personnel determined the best way to rescue the victim was for the wrecker to winch the trailer to the left. The operator moved his truck, attached the wrench cable to the trailer and winched it away from the refuse truck, freeing the victim. The victim was eased to the ground and advance life support measures were begun. The victim was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.


Crushing Chest Injuries


RECOMMENDATION #1: Employers should recognize winching and towing heavy equipment, such as refuse trucks, should be approached cautiously and may involve unforeseen circumstances.

DISCUSSION: The approach used by these workers may have worked. However, a theory of what happened instead follows:

Diagram of incident site.

Diagram #2

According to Newton’s third law of motion, which is also known as the principle of action and reaction, every action (or force) gives rise to a reaction (or opposing force) of equal strength but opposite direction.

As shown in Diagram #2, the slope of the driveway was down and away. The wrecker and the point where the winch cable attaches to the wrecker was positioned at a significantly higher elevation (the street) and to the right of the refuse truck. When the winch began pulling on the refuse truck, it created a force pulling the rear of the refuse truck to the right. But due to the higher elevation of the wrecker, consideration should also have been given to the force pulling up on the left rear of the refuse truck. This upward force probably would have increased the downward force on the right rear tires of the refuse truck. Also producing a downward force on the rear tires is the weight of the loaded refuse from the days pickups, thus decreasing the weight and friction on the front tires of the truck. These forces combined caused the right rear tires to dig into snow and the underlying pavement. These downward forces could have been enough to produce a pivot point on the right rear tires of the refuse truck, allowing the winch to pull the rear of the truck to the right, and thus pivoting the lighter than normal front of the refuse truck to the left.

RECOMMENDATION #2: Employers should only permit heavy equipment to be moved without the driver or operator in the vehicle.

DISCUSSION: If circumstances permit, heavy equipment should only be towed or winched without the driver or operator in the vehicle. If the equipment operator must be involved in the towing or moving of the piece of equipment, he should be in constant sight and voice contact with the tow or winch operator. If this cannot be accomplished, a third-person relay should be instituted to maintain contact with both the driver and the tow or winch operator.

RECOMMENDATION #3: Employers should develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive safety program that includes, but is not limited to, training in hazard recognition and avoidance.

DISCUSSION: Employers should emphasize the safety of their employees by developing, implementing, and enforcing a comprehensive safety program. The safety program should include training workers in the proper selection and use of personal protection equipment, along with the recognizing and avoiding of workplace hazards.

This employer did have and did enforce a comprehensive training program. We want to emphasize that all employers need to stress to their employees the importance of recognizing and avoiding all hazards in the workplace. Train yourself and your employees in workplace hazard recognition and avoidance.


The Missouri Department of Health, in cooperation with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), is conducting a research project on work-related fatalities in Missouri. The goal of this project, known as the Missouri Occupational Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (MO FACE), is to show a measurable reduction in traumatic occupational fatalities in the state of Missouri. This goal will be met by identifying causal and risk factors that contribute to work-related fatalities. The identification of these factors will enable more effective intervention strategies to be developed and implemented by employers and employees. This project does not determine fault or legal liability associated with a fatal incident. All MO FACE data will be reported to NIOSH only for trend analysis on a national basis. This will help NIOSH provide employers with effective recommendations for injury prevention. All personal/company identifiers are removed from all reports sent to NIOSH to protect the confidentiality of those who voluntarily participate with the program.

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

Page last reviewed: November 18, 2015