B.C. company fined $290K after falling pallets killed worker

A screenshot of a photo showing the forklift and the fallen pallets that was included in WorkSafeBC's incident report.  (WorkSafeBC - image credit)
A screenshot of a photo showing the forklift and the fallen pallets that was included in WorkSafeBC's incident report. (WorkSafeBC - image credit)

WorkSafeBC has fined a Richmond, B.C.-based packing company almost $300,000 after falling pallets struck and killed a worker.

The incident occurred in December 2022 at a warehouse belonging to the Great Little Box Company (GLBC), which handles packaging for a wide range of industries from beauty to manufacturing to food and beverage.

At the time, a forklift operator was taking down a row of six loaded pallets of boxes that reached over six metres high when he left to chat with a coworker, according to the agency's incident report. Before he could reach the vehicle on his way back, a bundle of two pallets — which weighed around 340 kilograms — fell on him.

There was no witness of the incident, the report says, but his coworkers searched for him and called 911 after another forklift operator heard the fallen stacks. He later died from his injuries.

In April, WorkSafeBC handed GLBC a $290,548.37 penalty for that incident and related "high-risk violations." In particular, it detailed the company's "inadequate" risk assessment, supervision and training, which it says contributed to the fatality.

Brad Tindall, GLBC's president, acknowledged the worker's death in a statement to CBC News.

"We lost a beloved colleague in December 2022," he said. "This has had a profound impact on the family and our organization, and we struggle to put this loss to words."

He added that the company is working to improve safety at its work sites.

"We continue to work closely with WorksafeBC and took immediate action to adhere to their recommendations and directives, implementing new safety enhancements along with rigorous training and inspection programs," Tindall said.

The agency's statutory maximum penalty for 2024 is $783,068.26. It says the amount is based on the violation's nature, the company's history of violations and the size of the company's payroll.

Gaps in safety policies

According to WorkSafeBC, the bundle that fell on the worker was "inherently unstable."

The agency described GLBC's process of creating a bundle as plastic-wrapping two loaded pallets. It added that the process was missing features such as straps around the bundle and slats on the pallets, which could have helped stabilize them.

There was also no company-wide stacking policy, it says.

The report also outlined gaps in other safety policies. For instance, GLBC has had a hazard reporting system since about 2012. However, WorkSafeBC found that not all incidents of falling objects were being reported, and it was "not clear" to workers if they needed to notify the system when no one was affected or when the issue was already corrected.

A screenshot of an image from the WorkSafeBC incident report showing the front row of the loaded pallets removed before the incident.
A screenshot of an image from the WorkSafeBC incident report showing the front row of the loaded pallets removed before the incident.

A screenshot of an image from the WorkSafeBC incident report showing the front row of the loaded pallets removed before the incident. (WorkSafeBC)

According to the report, there were at least six documented incidents, including one where a fallen pallet "clipped" a forklift operator, within three years prior to the worker's death in 2022.

The agency added that GLBC "did not consistently" adhere to the formal investigative procedures related to this issue.

Just a month before the fatality, a forklift hazard identification document was created, the report says. Notably, the document identified the risk of operators being struck by falling pallets.

But is also said "verifying whether corrective actions were completed was not applicable to this risk," according to the agency's report.

WorkSafeBC's penalty database includes no other fine for the company prior to the April penalty.

Older agency reports do, however, indicate that GLBC received several orders related to health and safety following inspections at its other Richmond warehouses, including following a 2021 incident where a worker "suffered minor injury but had potential for causing serious injury."