BULLDOZER RELATED DROWNING
Employees must always wear a U.S. Coast Guard
approved life jacket or a buoyant work vest when working near water.
- This accident occurred on Tuesday the 2nd
of April. A heavy equipment operator returned to a worksite comprising
a 14-foot deep silt pond with steep berms encompassing the pond. Heavy
rain had fallen in the area over the preceding weekend filling the
pond and causing the berm slopes to be very muddy, a condition similar
to moving on a surface covered with several inches of grease.
- The job assigned to the operator was to use
a bulldozer fill in low spots in the berms and to dress the slopes
for seeding. The work required operating the bulldozer up and down
the berms perpendicular to the pond. The operator had previously surveyed
the work requirements and specialized low gravity, wide track bulldozer
was brought in at his request. The operator was briefed on the job
by the foreman and then left alone at the site to accomplish the job.
When the foreman returned, approximately 20 minutes later, the employee
and bulldozer were not to be seen on the worksite. After driving around
the site looking for the employee he came upon an area of freshly
disturbed earth on the inside of the bank and then saw the operator
floating face down in the pond. The foreman administered CPR and called
the rescue squad, who also administered CPR while transporting the
employee to the hospital. The employee was pronounced dead upon arrival
at the hospital.
- Subsequent investigation revealed that while
dressing the slope of the berm the bulldozer lost traction and slid
backwards approximately 41 feet into the center of the silt pond.
At this point the pond was approximately 14 feet deep. The investigator
determined that the operator could swim however, a member of the fire
department dive unit indicated that the water in the silt pond was
murky to the extent that the employee may have gotten confused as
to which way was up. A possible heart attack was investigated when
the police officer on the scene found a prescription for heart medication
in the employee's lunch box. The medical examiner stated that the
cause of death was drowning.
- The conclusion to be drawn from the above
is that after making a turn to the vertical on the embankment, the
experienced operator began sliding down the slope toward the water.
He elected to continue at the controls of the bulldozer trying to
arrest the descent as it entered the water and quickly slid to the
bottom. Without a floatation device he was unable to save himself
by swimming to shore and drowned in the pond.
The fact that employees are operating heavy machinery
on an adjacent bank does not, in itself, provide a guarantee of safety.
As was demonstrated in this case, unplanned water entry is always a
possibility. On this basis, the wear of a floatation device must be
made a mandatory part of the jobsite hazard elimination effort whenever
working on a site "over or near water, where the danger of drowning
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