Horror week for forklift safety

News Story
- 22 Feb 2024 ( #1167 ) - Fort Worth, TX, United States
3 min read

A 68-year-old grandmother died at a Walmart distribution centre in the United States this week, one of a series of safety incidents and hearings into forklift accidents around the world.

Elena Rios died at a distribution centre in Fort Worth, Texas on 17 February after being crushed between the forklift she was operating and a pallet rack, according to local media reports.

Local media cited a statement from law firm Varghese Summersett, who represent Rios’ family: “On Friday morning, Elena Rios, a mother of four and grandmother of 13, was tragically killed in a Walmart forklift accident.

“Elena was a 10-year employee for Walmart, certified to operate forklifts and other heavy machinery.

“Elena … was a devoted mother, grandmother, sister and friend. She was planning to attend her granddaughter’s softball game this afternoon after she finished her shift at Walmart. Sadly, she never got that chance.”

Investigations into the accident are continuing.

In other related incidents around the world, a forklift accident caused a gas leak in Malaysia, an Australian court recorded the first conviction under new workplace manslaughter laws over a worker crushed by a forklift and an inquest in the United Kingdom examined a 2020 forklift fatality.

Malaysia

In the Malaysian city of Shah Alam, Selangor, 33 workers were hospitalised after a forklift crashed into an ammonia tank, sending toxic gas into the air, The Star reported.

"The current total of victims suffering from breathing difficulties from the accident is currently at 33 people; 14 workers from the affected factory and 19 workers from a nearby factory,” Shah Alam, officer in charge of the police district assistant commissioner, Mohd Iqbal Ibrahim told the news outlet.

"All have been sent to the hospital to receive treatment and are in stable conditions.”

Australia

In the Melbourne Supreme Court this week, stonemasonry business owner Laith Hanna became the first person to be convicted under the state of Victoria’s new workplace manslaughter laws, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports.

Hanna was ordered to pay USD120,000 (USD79 million) in compensation to the family of 25-year-old Michael Tsahrelias, who was crushed by a forklift driven by Hanna in 2021.

The court heard Hanna had attempted to reverse down a slope and lower a large steel rack.

Tsahrelias, a subcontractor, was standing near the machine and tried to steady the load when it tipped and crushed him.

Hanna’s company, LH Holding Management Pty Ltd, was ordered to pay a AUD1.3 million (USD850,000) fine and Hanna was ordered to undertake two years of unpaid community work.

"The negligent conduct itself was very brief, occurring over a number of seconds," Justice Michael Croucher said.

Meanwhile, in the Australian state of Tasmania a coroner has handed down his findings into the death of a man killed in a forklift accent in 2013.

Joshua John Dingjan, 24, died after the forklift he was using to unload goods from a truck at Roadside Products in St Leonards flipped, according to a Pulse Tasmania report.

“Mr Dingjan was a highly qualified, competent and diligent forklift operator,” Coroner Robert Webster said. “Contrary to his training he has attempted to unload the pack of steel on a slope when not wearing a seatbelt.”

The coroner recommended all forklift operators wear the provided seat belts and never load or unload on a slope, practices which Dingjan had, on that day, neglected.

United Kingdom

In the Welsh town of Ruthin, an inquest into the death of a forklift driver has also been underway this week, exploring why a safety mechanism on the vehicle involved in the fatal accident had been deactivated.

The inquest, being held at Ruthin’s County Hall, is looking into the death of 48-year-old Stephen Pritchard at Martin Industries on Llay Industrial Estate on 26 February 26, 2020, according to a report in The Leader.

The father of three died from crush injuries sustained when his forklift jerked forward.

The inquest is examining why a seat safety sensor, which is designed to stop the forklift from moving when the driver's seat is vacant, had been deactivated.

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