The Danger Behind the Door

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Truck drivers have many risks while performing their duties on a daily basis. Snow, ice, rain, wind and most of all . . . other vehicles and road conditions. This profession is perhaps one of the most high risk jobs in the country as they are faced with hazard exposure at almost every minute they are on duty.

One significant overlooked danger actually lies behind them when they go to open the swing doors on a trailer . . . the opportunity for cargo to fall out on them because it wasn't secured properly. Here is a recent headline to highlight just how dangerous this can be:

Truck driver dies after paper bale crushes him
Peninsula Daily News - February 21, 2021
By Paul Gottlieb

PORT ANGELES — The state Department of Labor and Industries is investigating the death of a truck driver who was struck by a 1,500-pound cardboard bale at a McKinley Paper Company unloading area.

Joseph Coolidge Oiness, 47, of Sequim, was pronounced dead Thursday afternoon at Olympic Medical Center following the 1:15 p.m. incident at the Ediz Hook mill west of downtown Port Angeles, according to a Port Angeles Police Department report.

The Old Blyn Highway resident, a driver for Hermann Brothers Logging & Construction Inc. of Port Angeles, was opening the rear doors of a semi-trailer loaded with compressed bales of cardboard, a spokesperson for the Labor and Industries said Friday. 

The agency is conducting an investigation of the company as it does for all workplace fatalities, Dina Lorraine of Labor & Industries said Friday.

“Some time during the transport the load shifted,” she said in an email.

“When the employee unlatched the last door the weight of the bales leaning against the door forced the door open and a 1,500-pound bale of compressed cardboard landed on the employee.”

Oiness had been employed at Hermann Brothers for about 10 years and that he had a high-school-age daughter, according to co-owner Bill Hermann.

A McKinley Paper Company spokesperson did not return calls for comment.

There were no eyewitnesses, according to a police report.

A company forklift driver who unloads the bales told police he saw Oiness’ truck back up to the company docks.

He said he turned away to load more of the large bundles on a conveyor and looked back to see Oiness on the ground, his midsection and legs covered by one of two bales that had fallen out of the truck.

Oiness was screaming that his back had been broken, the forklift operator said.

He and a coworker lifted the bale off of Oiness, who soon lost consciousness.

Safety and Training Manager Grant Rider said Oiness was unconscious when he arrived at the scene.

He said it appeared that Oiness opened the first door on the right of the back of the truck and latched it shut to the trailer before opening the second door, which swung open and knocked Oiness down, according to the police report.

Viada said medics responded, and Oiness was transported to OMC.

Photos of the scene were taken after he was taken to the hospital, Rider said. It had been cleared and cleaned by the time police arrived.

Hermann said Friday the cube-shaped bales were transported, unstrapped or untied down, in a 53-foot truck.

“They stack them in there and the trailer contains them,” he said.

“Why this sad thing happened, I don’t know, and we’re really going to miss his talents, that’s for sure.

“It’s just a very sad event, and anything I say would be speculative.”

Viada said the police investigation has been closed.

Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney-Coroner Mark Nichols said Oiness’ remains were transported Friday to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy.

The Labor & Industries investigation included interviews conducted Friday at McKinley that were completed, Lorraine said.

The agency’s review of safety protocols is focused on Hermann Brothers, she said.

“If they find anything, they issue a citation,” Lorraine said, adding the company also could be fined.

The investigation could take up to six months.

“One of the things we will look at is the truck, and if [the load] needed to be secured,” she said.

“That’s a ‘gimme.’”

This is a tragic example of how such an incident can occur. Some things to consider to prevent this from occurring again would be:

  • Always ensure the cargo is secured prior to closing the door at the point of departure. It may shift in transit, but this check prior to leaving can help in determining the risks once at the destination.
  • Utilize a load bar(s) or securing strap(s) across the back so the cargo is less likely to shift and fall out the back of the trailer at the destination. (Not a single load leaves my facility without this however I've still seen shift in transit)
  • When opening the swing doors:
    • Assume something will fall out of the back of the trailer.
    • Stand out of the line of fire, to the side of the door and opening where the door itself acts like a shield to buffer the impact and prevent a direct hit. Likely the door will push you out of the way.
    • On swing doors that have 2 latches on each door, only unlatch the inner most one first, allowing you to stand further to the outside of the line of fire when unlatching the second one.
    • Slowly unlatch only the outside door, "feeling" if there is any tension on the door.
    • Once the outside door is unlatched and opened, look inside the back of the trailer to ensure the cargo is not leaning against the other door. Secure the door to the side of the trailer.
    • Once clear, unlatch the inside door and secure it to the other side of the trailer.
  • For shippers, it may be a consideration to single down the last units on the tail of the trailer if possible.

There are some cable devices and such that we've seen used to attach to the doors prior to unlatching them but we have no evidence on their effectiveness. The most effective tool you can utilize is to say out of the line of fire. That means standing behind the door and unlatching to the side. Then if something does come out, the door acts like a shield against cargo falling on you.

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