Cargo Handler Cited in Fatal Forklift Accident

San Diego—Cal/OSHA has issued citations to marine cargo handler SSA Pacific Inc. for willful and serious safety violations following the investigation of a fatal forklift accident at the Port of San Diego.

On January 3, a longshoreman was driving a forklift into a transit shed when he collided with a concrete support column and suffered fatal injuries after being thrown from the forklift. Cal/OSHA’s investigation found that the employee was not wearing a seatbelt and that the forklift had multiple safety devices disabled, including a seatbelt warning buzzer and mast interlock system designed to disconnect power from the hydraulic lift when the operator is unseated.

Cal/OSHA issued six citations totaling $205,235 in proposed penalties to SSA Pacific Inc., a division of Seattle-based international marine cargo handler SSA Marine.

The citations issued included four serious violations for the employer’s failure to ensure that forklift operators use seatbelts, properly maintain and inspect forklifts, ensure operators were effectively trained and for improperly altering forklift safety features. A general violation was cited for the employer’s failure to establish and maintain an effective heat illness prevention plan.

A citation was also issued for a willful-serious violation, as the employer failed to ensure workers perform a forklift safety check at the beginning of each shift and report unsafe conditions, a violation the company was cited for in 2016 following an accident inspection at the Port of Long Beach.

The incident in 2016 occurred when two workers improperly attempted to lift a 15-ton forklift from the hatch of a ship with a crane. One worker was hospitalized overnight for injuries to his ribs and lungs when he was pinned by the mast of the running forklift.

A citation is classified as willful when evidence indicates that the employer committed an intentional and knowing violation, or was aware that a hazardous condition existed and made no reasonable effort to eliminate it. A citation is classified as serious when there is a realistic possibility that death or serious harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation.

Forklift safety requirements are summarized on page 65 of Cal/OSHA’s Pocket Guide for the Construction Industry.