Report: Log Truck Driver Death Was Preventable

According to an Oregon Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (OR-FACE) report, a few basic safety measures could have prevented the death of a 50-year-old log truck driver.

According to the report, the driver was killed on Sept. 23, 2004, in an Oregon mill yard when he was crushed against his load of logs by a front-end loader. The loader operator – who assumed the log truck driver was in the cab of his truck – moved the machine forward to secure the logs. A second loader operator then saw a hard hat on the ground and radioed to the first operator to back away, but it was too late.

In the OR-FACE report, the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology – which conducted the investigation, with the help of OR-OSHA – offers these three recommendations:

  • Eye contact and a designated "ready" signal must be established between mobile machinery operators and truck drivers working together to load or unload a truck.
  • For hazardous work environments, employers should conduct regular safety training and retraining.
  • Employers should conduct a site hazard assessment, which should include a documented job safety analysis and disciplinary process.

Front-End Loader View Was Obstructed

The OR-FACE report notes that normal operating procedures at the log yard called for log truck drivers to park in an area designated by the loader operator. (According to the report, the loader operator "was the lead individual in the log yard" and his duties included setting work schedules, administering discipline and training drivers on log yard rules.)

"Drivers were then allowed to remove two of the four wrappers on the load," the report says. "Once the loader operator saw the two wrappers had been removed, the front-end loader would be moved forward to secure the load while the driver removed the remaining two wrappers. After the last two wrappers were removed, drivers would stand at the front or rear of the truck as the load was lifted off.

"The general manager for the mill complex stated he was not sure if the drivers always gave a signal to the loader operator that it was all clear to proceed with unloading."

The incident occurred around 6:35 a.m., according to the report. Because the morning was dark and foggy, the loader operator activated the machine's lights to help with visibility.

"In this incident, the loader operator assumed the driver was in the cab of his truck, because he was not visible and it appeared the middle two wrappers on the load were already removed," the report explains. "The operator moved the front-end loader forward to secure the load on the truck, so the remaining two wrappers could be safely removed. The view in front of the loader, though well-lit, was obstructed by the unfolding arms of the machine."

According to the report, the log truck driver evidently was in the process of removing the first two wrappers when the front-end loader approached. The victim was found dead at the scene.

The report points out that drivers were not required to be in a certain position when the unloading machines approached the load.

Following the Rules Could Have Saved Driver's Life

The OR-FACE report calls on log yards to incorporate drivers into their safety programs. Log yards, the report says, need to adequately inform drivers of the severity of the hazards at the sites and ensure that drivers comply with safe practices.

According to the report, rules at this particular log yard required hard hats, four wrappers on each load of logs and for drivers always to stay in clear view.

"Individuals involved in this incident agreed it would not have occurred if they had followed existing log yard rules," the report says. "A major difficulty in this instance is the necessary cooperation between permanent staff at the yard and a large number of independent truck drivers who may not be adequately informed of safe policies and procedures while unloading their trucks. From the perspective of the drivers, the unloading process is likely to be different at each different log yard."

In hazardous environments such as mill yards, regular safety training and retraining is recommended.

"Repetition reinforces the content of the message, ensures that everyone is included and also demonstrates to workers that the employer is serious about maintaining a safe work environment," the report explains. "Since this incident, the mill has implemented an in-depth retraining program with all workers at the log yard, including drivers."

Site Hazard Assessment Recommended

To identify hazards and unsafe work practices, the OR-FACE report recommends a site hazard assessment. Such an assessment should include a documented job safety analysis and disciplinary process.

"Documented disciplinary action helps to prevent workers from bending the rules little by little, until safety is compromised," the report says. "Enforcement of the rules, and corrective action when a hazard is identified, should be immediate and consistent."

The report can be viewed at http://www.ohsu.edu/croet/face/reports/2004-21-1.pdf.

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