Log Truck Driver Dies When Struck by Logs Being Loaded on Trailer
On a fall day in the Pacific Northwest, a log truck driver working for a trucking contractor arrived on the landing of a logging company to pick up a load. The loader operator worked for the logging company. The victim and the loader operator had been working together at the site for approximately one week before the incident but had not worked together prior to this job.
The incident occurred shortly before sunrise, and it would most likely have been too dark at that time to carry out normal operations without the use of artificial illumination. The weather that morning was cool, dry, and calm.
The victim was a 55-year-old log truck driver employed by the trucking company for several years. He had been driving log trucks for over 15 years. He had experience hauling both long logs and short logs and had worked with many loader operators over the years. The driver was known for always wearing proper PPE, including his high-visibility safety vest.
The loader operator had been a logger and equipment operator for over 30 years. At the time of the incident, he had worked for the company logging the site off and on for approximately four to five years. A foreman who had previously worked with the operator in the past remembered him as a “very good operator” who did not put productivity before safety.
UNSAFE ACTS AND CONDITIONS
Until the time of the incident, all the logs that the victim had transported from the site had been “long logs,” which had been loaded onto trailers of standard configuration. On the day of the incident, only one truck would be needed to haul the remaining “short logs” from the site.
On the evening before the incident, the victim and his employer had configured the truck for hauling short logs by extending the trailer and adding a rack with a second set of bunks, or “turkey rack.” That night, the metal extension rods used to increase the height of the bunk stakes were left lowered.
On the morning of the incident, the loader operator arrived at the worksite before the victim at approximately 5:00 a.m. He proceeded to warm up the loader. The victim drove the truck onto the site shortly after to pick up a load of short logs (12-24 feet in length). It was still before sunrise. The landing at the site was open and level. The victim backed the log truck into position with the loader located between the log deck and the rear of the trailer on the passenger side of the truck. There was another stack of logs in front of the loader. In this position, when lifting logs with the grapple in line with the tracks, the cab of the loader would be faced away from the cab of the truck. The victim and the loader operator were reportedly in radio contact during the configuration process.
ACCIDENT / INJURY
The victim was in the cab of the truck at approximately 5:15 a.m. when the loader operator placed the first load of logs in the bunks at the front of the trailer. The loader operator then turned the cab and boom arm away from the trailer and picked up the next two logs to place in the rear bunks. As the loader operator was bringing the second pair of logs around toward the rear of the trailer, he suddenly caught sight of the victim’s orange safety vest and realized that he was standing on the back of the trailer. The loader operator immediately reversed the load’s direction, and both logs fell from the grapple and landed on the ground behind the trailer. The loader operator left the cab and found the victim lying unconscious over the bar of the rear bunk. He had been struck by the logs either as they were being swung toward the bunk or as they fell.
The loader operator was trained in first aid and CPR but could not lift the victim down from the trailer alone. He contacted 911 and attempted to maintain an airway for the victim while waiting for emergency responders.
The medical examiner attributed the death to a crush injury of the left pelvis, with bilateral rib fractures contributing to death. Postmortem toxicology testing was negative for drugs and alcohol. The victim was declared dead at the scene. Emergency responders reported that the victim was wearing a long-sleeved shirt over his high-visibility safety vest.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CORRECTIONS
- Employers should train log truck drivers to always establish and confirm visual or radio communication with the loader operator before leaving the cab of the truck during loading procedures.
- Employers should train loader operators to verify by sight or radio contact that the driver is in the clear before loading.
- Employers should ensure that when employees work with a new company or crew member, or when conditions or procedures change, the intended loading process is reviewed before loading begins.
- Employers should provide log truck drivers with appropriate high-visibility safety vests and train them to ensure that they are worn in an effective manner.
Figure 1: Diagram of Incident Site