Employees were exposed to the hazard of being struck and crushed by a stack of crates that toppled over during a forklift/material handling operation.


After unloading crates of fiberboard panels from the ship's hold to the dock using a crane with a spreader, longshoremen transport the freestanding crated cargo by a forklift to a nearby warehouse.

Activity at time of incident:

A forklift operator had inserted the forks of the truck which were 42 inches long under a load of stacked crates which were 31½ inches wide, and proceeded to lift the load. The operator did not realize that the crates were narrower than the crates he had been previously handling. The forks extended beyond the base of the intended load to the base of an adjacent stack of crates, which toppled as the forks were lifted. Two laborers were behind the north side of the crates to reconnect the slings back to the spreader so that the crane could return to the ship's cargo compartment.

Incident Description


Large crates of fiberboard panels are offloaded from a ship, set on a dock, and transported by forklift to a warehouse. Each crate is about 100 inches long and 30 inches high, and weighs about 2,700 pounds. To move the crates out of the ship's hold, the longshoremen uses an on-board crane equipped with a spreader bar. The crates are rigged with slings connected to the spreader bar and are usually offloaded six at a time (in two stacks of three). Two laborers receive the cargo on the dock, unhooking the slings to free the cargo and then reconnecting the slings to the crane's spreader bar in preparation for another load. The freestanding crates, stacked three high, are transported by forklift from the cargo dock to a nearby warehouse.


At the time of the incident, the two laborers were in the process of unloading a stack of three crates on the dock. The crane operator had placed the stack alongside a similar stack that was about to be moved by a forklift. The two laborers were on the north side of the stacks reconnecting the slings to the crane's spreader bar, as the forklift approached from the opposite side. The stacks were 90 inches tall and 100 inches long, preventing the forklift operator from seeing the two laborers working on the other side. The forklift operator inserted the forks (42 inches long) completely under the closest stack of crates (31½ inches wide), but because the forks were wider than the load, the forks extended 10 inches beyond the intended load under the base of the adjacent stack. When the forklift operator raised the intended load, the adjacent stack of crates toppled and fatally crushed one of the laborers.

Relevant Factors:

The forks were 42 inches long and the stack of crates was only 31½ inches wide at the base. The forklift operator had not realized that this load was narrower than the previous loads, although the cargo dimensions were clearly stenciled on each crate. The width is very hard to judge while the material is in the air. Unless someone tells the operator of the change in load size, the operator can be unaware of this condition. Only six crates in the entire shipment were 31.5 inches deep. All the other crates were deep enough that the forks did not extend beyond the load.

Due to the dimensions of the cargo the forklift operator did not see the two men standing on the north side of the load.

The supervisor should have checked to determine if the load size was changing so the appropriate fork could be used or a different loading procedure could be implemented.

Applicable Standards and Control Measures

  • 29 CFR 1917.43(b)(6): Powered industrial trucks - General. "Only stable and safely arranged loads within the rated capacity of the truck shall be handled."

This hazard could have been prevented if either the loading procedures were revised to accommodate a change in load size or if the employer had implemented a system to communicate changes in load size to the forklift operator and had ensured that workers remained within view of the forklift operator and away from the potential path of falling cargo. Further, this hazard could have been prevented if there had been sufficient space between stacks to prevent a forklift from accidentally catching an adjacent load in the forks.

Other Relevant Standards and/or Control Measures

  • 29 CFR 1917.43(b)(8): Powered industrial trucks - General. "The employer shall direct drivers to slow down and sound the horn at crossaisles and other locations where visibility is obstructed."

The forklift operator must sound the horn to alert others in the vicinity of his approach, whenever his field of vision is obstructed.

  • 29 CFR 1910.178(l): Powered industrial trucks - Operator training. "The employer shall ensure that each powered industrial truck operator is competent to operate a powered industrial truck safely as demonstrated by the successful completion of the training and evaluation specified in this paragraph."

Train the operator, through initial and periodic refresher training, to observe all safe operating procedures.

Material Handling Accidents Summary No. 7: Victim was struck by toppling crates that became dislodged by forklift blades.

Material Handling Accidents Summary No. 7: Victim was struck by toppling crates that became dislodged by forklift blades.