Skip to Content, Skip to Navigation

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Lone worker incident

Lone worker incident
Article Type:
Publication Date:
New Zealand

A timber processing worker alone in the plant at night was knocked unconscious while driving a forklift when a chain bolt failed under tension and struck him on the head. The forklift continued a further 20 metres before it came to rest and the worker fell off. He was later discovered by his partner wandering in a daze around the plant and bleeding heavily from a head laceration.

The failure of an inappropriate bolt – which should never have been inserted into the chain – was the direct cause of the incident, but investigations revealed shortcomings in standard procedures and lone work provisions.

Hautapu Pine Products Ltd was fined $24,250 and ordered to pay an additional $5000 in reparation on top of the $5000 it had already paid to the victim (Taihape DC, 15 June 2015).

The victim, O’Hara, had been with the company for 18 months and had been working in the timber treatment plant for about two months. He had been working alone in the plant at night for about two weeks.

The timber to be treated is placed in bundles onto trolleys by forklift. Up to five trolleys of timber are then pushed by the forklift along a railway track into treatment cylinders, which are flooded with wood preservative. After the treatment cycle the forklift driver uses a three metre chain to pull the trolleys out of the cylinders. Fully laden, the trolleys weight 10 to 16 tonnes.

However, one or more trolleys often derailed due to movement of the timber in the flooded cylinders or when trolleys were being pulled out of the cylinders. Derailment was routine, occurring as often as once a week. The standard (unwritten) procedure was for the forklift operator to uncouple the forklift from the trolleys, drive the forklift to the derailed trolley, and lift it back onto the rails.

On the night in question three of the five trolleys derailed while being pulled out of the cylinders. This was unprecedented. Despite the unwritten procedure, O’Hara tried to use the forklift to tow the treated timber from the cylinders. A bolt that was attached to the chain failed, causing the chain to snap backwards at speed and go through the rear window of the forklift, striking him on the back of the head. He fell from the forklift once it had come to rest against some pallets 20 metres further on.

O’Hara spent six days in hospital with a serious impact wound on his head and required physiotherapy on his neck and back. After six weeks he returned to work with no lasting effects, except that he cannot remember the incident.

WorkSafe NZ established that the pin of the chain’s lug link had at some point been replaced by a bolt, which is not recommended and would have caused the hardware to fail inspection. The regulator identified several practicable steps the company could have taken:

  • a written standard operating procedure for trolley derailment;
  • use appropriate chains and links;
  • a service/inspection schedule for chains and links;
  • ensure the forklift’s rear window offered protection against flying objects; and
  • implement an effective written lone worker policy.

Sentencing, Judge S B Edwards noted that O’Hara’s memory loss meant no one knew why he had departed from the unwritten derailment procedure, or whether he had attempted the correct procedure first but the fact that three trolleys had derailed had made that method more difficult.

Counsel for the defendant also noted that other companies engaged in timber treatment had learned from this incident and had now fitted protective barriers to protect their forklift drivers. “It is comforting,” said the judge, “that as a result of this accident the state of knowledge amongst those in the industry can now be said to be much better”.



Organisations Mentioned:
Hautapu Pine Products
Reference No:

From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Table of Contents