This case involves a forklift driver in a warehouse who reversed into another worker in close proximity killing him. The forklift was equipped with a backup alarm which emits a blaring sound like a siren. It was alleged that because the alarm was located inside a covered compartment, the sound of the beeper was masked, reducing its effectiveness and ultimately contributing to the accident. An expert in forklift design was sought to determine if the placement of the backup alarm inside the covering was defective.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. Please describe your experience performing root cause analysis on forklifts, specifically with forklift backup alarms.
- 2. What materials would you need to identify if the backup alarm or the design of the forklift is defective and caused it to mask the beeper or reduce its effectiveness?
Expert Witness Response E-000458
I have analyzed the utility of backup alarms in construction and warehouse applications as indicated by the OSHA accident database, as well as the utility of the OSHA-mandated forklift training. I have lectured on auditory alarms, as well as the environmental factors which enhance or degrade the effectiveness of such alarms. To assess the utility of a backup alarm to a pedestrian, the sound level must be measured (above the background noise) of the audible alarm at various distances from the backing vehicle. The design of a forklift with an alarm in the back portion of the lift, underneath a metal cover is not inherently dangerous or defective. The key safety issue with forklifts and backup alarms is if the alarm is sufficient to warn those around it that it is backing up. I would be happy to investigate the particular machine and alarm involved in this case to assess if the alarm, where it was placed in the machine, was sufficient.