Forklifts are some of the most dangerous machinery in the workplace, posing great risk of injury and death if operated improperly or not maintained to specifications. In fact, some of the highest rates of warehouse accidents resulting in deaths involve forklifts. Businesses that knowingly and repeatedly ask workers to use this machinery in unsafe way may face high penalties. But are the fines enough to protect workers?
A seafood company in Westport, WA recently came into the spotlight for endangering its forklift operators. The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) cited Ocean Gold Seafoods Inc., a total of $117,740 for willful and repeated serious workplace safety violations at its processing plant. The majority of these violations involved forklift safety.
Such fines include a willful violation with the maximum allowed penalty of $70,000 for not completing regular safety inspections or fixing defective parts on the vehicles (such as broken seatbelts or dysfunctional horns).
L&I inspection this past year determined that the company rarely performed forklift inspections, and even reported defects were never fixed. There were a large number of instances where forklift seatbelts didn’t work, including one that was pulled completely out and wouldn’t retract. Other defects included machines without working horns, preventing forklift drivers from alerting their co-workers in limited visibility areas that a vehicle was coming through the door. Such oversights put pedestrians at risk of being struck and killed, which is a common occurrence at warehouses and factories.
L&I cited Ocean Gold Seafoods for a repeat-serious violation carrying a $15,400 penalty after the inspector noted two workers operating forklifts without wearing their seatbelts. Then in August 2015 the seafood company was cited for the very same issue.
Being crushed by a forklift tipping over is the leading cause of forklift-related deaths in the U.S. If accidents do occur and the forklift tips over, drivers are far safer if they are strapped into the seat since this prevents them from falling out.
Ocean Gold was cited for 9 more violations for exposing workers to fall hazards; failure to set emergency brakes on parked forklifts; defective stair tread; exposed electrical wires; equipment and clutter stored in front of control panels; and unsafe use of extension cords. The violations carried penalties totaling $32,340.
A serious violation is noted in workplaces when there is a significant chance that worker death or serious physical harm can result from a hazardous condition. A willful violation can be issued when there is clear evidence of simple indifference on the part of the employer, a lack of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule. General violations exist at a lower level and are cited when the violation itself does not pose the risk of serious injury or death.
Ocean Gold Seafoods was given two weeks to appeal. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.