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$50,000 fine sends message: don’t skip health and safety during materials handling

Motion blur of worker driving a forklift to unload cargo inside container truck.

A recent court case illustrates how a seemingly straightforward material handling task can lead to a serious workplace injury, a conviction, and a $50,000 fine for an employer for failing to take reasonable precautions to protect a worker, as required by the Occupational Health & Safety Act (OHSA).

The incident occurred when a worker was asked to unload pallets of soil from a delivery truck onto a pump truck. The worker pulled the pump truck onto a liftgate attached to the delivery truck and began unloading bags of soil. After the pump truck was loaded, the worker tried to reach a control mechanism to lower the liftgate to the ground. That’s when the pump truck and its load rolled forward. To avoid being hit, the worker jumped off the liftgate to the ground, sustaining serious injuries.

Why the incident happened

“The first thing that strikes me is that the worker was on a slanted surface (the liftgate) in front of the load, instead of behind it, putting the worker at risk of being crushed,” says WSPS Consultant Carl Bonello.  

So why was the worker in front of the load? According to an investigation by the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD), the employer had not followed the liftgate manufacturer’s guideline to “push”, not “pull” a pump truck onto a liftgate to avoid a loss of control. In addition, the worker had not been trained on how to get the pump truck onto the liftgate safely.

“This demonstrates how important it is to complete pre-job risk assessments to determine what the potential hazards are, and what controls (including training) are required to prevent harm to a worker,” says Carl.

Carl offers six tips to help prevent similar material handling incidents from occurring and to avoid convictions and fines. 

6 material handling safety tips for employers

  1. Assess the hazards and risks associated with the task and the equipment before it is used. “Look at every possible scenario and every element – the pump truck, the liftgate, the maximum load, the worker’s ability – to determine what could go wrong.” Download this free manual material handling checklist to help you manage hazards in your operations.

    Also, don’t forget to assess the risks of falling from a liftgate, notes Carl. “A fall of under three metres can result in serious injuries and death.”

  2. Review the manufacturer’s guidelines for every piece of equipment involved in the task. “In this incident, the employer would need to look at the manufacturer’s guidelines for both the pump truck and the liftgate,” says Carl. “It is vital that organizations ensure that the equipment is used as intended.

    What if instructions for two pieces of equipment appear contradictory? “Then consider what the biggest hazard would be to the employee and try to mitigate that,” advises Carl.  

  3. Develop controls for each hazard. “When using a pump truck and liftgate, administrative controls in the form of safe procedures, training, and signage are the best way to control risks,” notes Carl. “Procedures might include having two workers load and move the device, instead of one.”

  4. Develop safe work procedures for the task. “There should be a standard operating practice to unloading the truck onto a pump truck that clearly explains the hazards associated with the task, the controls the company has in place to mitigate those risks, the required tools and PPE, and how it should be done safely.”

  5. Train the worker on the task and the equipment. “When providing training, make it specific to each piece of equipment being used, and provide a practical evaluation afterwards to confirm understanding.” A practical component is particularly beneficial if your workforce includes new Canadians who speak English as a second language. “Make sure you document the training and practical exercise,” says Carl. “This will help establish that you have taken every reasonable precaution to protect your workers.”

  6. Provide supervision. The supervisor’s role is to monitor workers to ensure they are doing their jobs safely and provide correction if needed. “Workers who are new to the workplace or the job will need more monitoring than someone who has been at the company for a long time and knows the procedures.” 

How WSPS can help


Connect with a WSPS consultant for help carrying out risk assessments and developing controls for materials handling tasks and equipment.


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The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.