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Deicer Forklift Accident

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Michael Fox, PhD.



Deicer Forklift Accident

An employee of a temporary manpower type company was driving a rented forklift to unload a truck at the dock. Due to the weather, a deicer material was applied to the surface of the dock. When and how the deicer was applied and by whom was not entirely clear. However, the white material on the right hand side of Figure 1 is alleged to be the deicer.

It was alleged that the deicer made the dock unreasonably slippery and that caused the forklift to slide off the edge of the dock, injuring the driver. Due to a brain injury, the driver could not remember anything that led up to the accident. Further complicating the issue was the fact that there were no eyewitnesses to the accident.

Left photo is the forklift after falling off the dock and the right photo is the dock on the day of the incident. The white material is said to be deicer.

A sample of the deicer material used on the day of the incident was collected and placed in a baggie. Dr. Fox's primary role was to develop a court-approved protocol to remove the material from the baggie and have it analyzed. Dr. Fox also reviewed other aspects of the accident and provided a rebuttal report to one particular chemical expert.

The primary ingredients in the deicer were calcium chloride and urea. The analytical results from the baggie were compared to the results from a known sample of the alleged culprit deicer and shown to be significantly different, thereby casting considerable doubt about which brand of deicer was actually used. The results suggested that the baggie sample might have been intentionally contaminated with urea, possibly to ensure that urea was found and to pin the blame on a specific brand of urea-containing deicer. However, the added urea then threw the chemical ratios, such as urea-to-calcium, way out of sync compared to the alleged culprit deicer.

More importantly, deposition testimonies revealed that the real cause of the accident was plain and simple greed and a total disregard for worker safety by management. The injured driver had complained to the dock foreman from the very start of the day that the dock was dangerously slippery. The dock foreman then requested permission from upper management to get a forklift with more slip-resistant tires, but was denied. The dock foreman even told his higher-ups that he was "afraid someone was going to get hurt." In his deposition the foreman said:

"You know, I mean, it's all about - one thing that they really preach … it's about -- like any business, it's the money. It's the money. We're all here guarding money. We are. … And that old saying comes out with everybody that works for this company: Get it done. Make it work."

This accident also involved many violations of OSHA Standards. The case settled just prior to trial.

Dr. Fox has his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry and is a Certified Fire & Explosion Investigator with substantial experience investigating complex industrial chemical accidents, fires and explosions as well as chemical-related consumer produce accidents, fires and explosions. He is also a Certified Team Leader in OSHA Process Hazard Analysis.