An employee who drove a loaded forklift in the forward direction with his view obstructed was properly issued a five-day suspension, an Ontario arbitrator has decided.
The employee was bringing a load of ten 30” wooden reels into the plant. Instead of turning around and driving the forklift backwards, so his view would not be obstructed by the load, he drove forward. A coworker pulled into the aisle with a hand-operated lift truck known as a “walkie”. The employee braked suddenly to miss the coworker, causing the forklift load to shift and strike the coworker. She was injured in the back, shoulder and abdomen and was off work through WSIB for seven weeks.
The employee agreed that it was standard operating procedure to travel in reverse when carrying a vision-obstructing load. Also the plant rules prohibited operation of a forklift with an obstructed view. Further, the employer had recently issued a memorandum telling employees to travel in reverse or have a spotter if the load blocked their view.
Arbitrator Kristin Eliot decided that the employee had breached plant safety rules and legislated safety standards. This was a very serious incident and the harm to the coworker could have been much worse. The employee should have turned around, when he was able, and operated the forklift in reverse.
The arbitrator therefore upheld the five-day suspension.
This case is another in a line of cases demonstrating that courts and labour arbitrators take safety violations very seriously and are prepared to uphold strong discipline against employees who breach safety rules.
Belden (CDT) Canada Inc. and USWA, 2011 CarswellOnt 15970.