Virginia Works Newsletter
February- March 2004

BULLDOZER RELATED DROWNING

Employees must always wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket or a buoyant work vest when working near water.

INCIDENT DESCRIPTION

  • 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.


LESSONS LEARNED

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 exists."

 

 


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