By Charlie Morasch
OOIDA Life Member Richard Greer looks much younger than his 68 years – and he considers himself fortunate to have survived his 67th.
One year ago, Greer was bloated and in a coma for nearly two months after a steel building he was preparing to unload slipped and crushed every rib but one, collapsing a lung and coming within an inch, doctors say, of ending his life.
On Feb. 25, 2009, Greer was delivering a steel building at the Highland Valley Copper mines at Logan Lake in British Columbia, Canada.
From the moment he first saw the building, Greer said the building just didn’t look right on the flatbed.
“I didn’t like it. I noticed it didn’t look right the second I pulled in to pick it up,” Greer said.
But the escorts were ready to go, and his shipper and receiver were counting on the delivery to the mine site. So Richard hooked his truck up to the flatbed and delivered it to the mine that cold February day. At the mine, he walked around and stood behind the flatbed, and started to remove straps at the end of the load.
In an instant, the steel building slipped and flattened Richard to the ground.
As luck – or fate – would have it, area emergency workers were performing safety training exercises that day at the Highland Valley Copper mine within sight of Richard.
After the building fell, they rushed to his aid.
Three minutes after the building fell on him, the group had moved the building off and were trying to stabilize Richard’s body.
“It’s funny that they happened to be there that morning,” Richard said.
Richard remembers being taken to the hospital, and he’ll never forget not being able to feel his arms and legs.
“I couldn’t feel anything; even being naked on the cold table I wasn’t cold,” he said.
He soon went unconscious, a state in which he’d remain for nearly two months.
That day, Feb. 25, happened to be Jessie Greer’s birthday. Jessie, Richard’s wife, spent 54 days in the hospital with him, watching and hoping for a miracle as her husband lay unconscious.
Richard’s friends didn’t hold back when describing their buddy during his coma.
“They told me I blew up like the Pillsbury Doughboy,” Greer said.
British Columbia conducted a comprehensive investigation of the incident, and though the report identified causes and made “recommendations for policy and procedure changes,” the government’s Energy, Mines & Petroleum Resources division didn’t prosecute or fine anyone over the incident or Richard’s injuries.
Richard visited OOIDA headquarters with friend Vern Shore, who is also an OOIDA life member, in mid-April. The trip in Shore’s truck was his first road trip since the day he was nearly killed.
Richard said he wants drivers to take one bit of advice. As his smile fades, Richard locks eyes with you and he points his finger to punctuate his words.
“When you feel like something isn’t right with a load,” Richard says, “refuse to take it.”
Not every driver survives a slipped load.
Stacy Moody, 41, of Turbeville, SC, was unloading a slab of granite shortly after he arrived April 12 at American Countertops Co., in Hanover, MD. Moody was reportedly removing the straps from the granite slab by himself when it fell on him, killing him.
Other employees nearby moved the slab before paramedics arrived, but Moody was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Capital Gazette reported that Maryland Occupational Safety and Health is investigating the incident and that an American Countertops Co. supervisor said loading and unloading is typically performed by one truck driver.
OOIDA Life Member Charlie Parfrey has asked federal agencies for years to address problems with A-frame loads typically used for heavy flat rock and glass.
Parfrey said incidents where truckers are injured or even killed are unfortunately not surprising.
Steve Mosbrucker, who worked for Parfrey’s trucking company, nearly died when a granite load slipped and fell on him in 2004.
A shipper had loaded Mosbrucker’s flatbed with granite slabs, which were supported by an A-frame ill-equipped for the load. The A-frame had been extended, using two-by-fours and duct tape, and then loaded with the flat rock.
As Mosbrucker released the first strap, the A-frame collapsed and the granite slid off the truck. Mosbrucker suffered seven orbital fractures, a broken jaw, compressed left shoulder, a hip injury, and deep scrapes to his left leg.
Many other injuries suffered by drivers from slabs of granite, marble and glass go unreported, Parfrey said.
Mosbrucker spent 10 weeks off the road recovering, but the incident is one of several that motivated Parfrey to repeatedly ask the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and others to protect truckers that work with loads that use A-frame systems.
Some A-frames have a load capacity of 6,000 pounds, but may be used to haul as much as 20,000 pounds, he said.
“This is a forgotten part of the industry. It’s just something where somebody said, ‘Oh, we can’t do anything about it – so let it be. We have no control,’ ” Parfrey said. “I think OSHA has got to get involved here.”
Parfrey said a new A-frame system has been used by flatbedders in recent years, which is safer for drivers and others to use. The continued use of A-frames that lack necessary strength, however, mean federal requirements are needed, he said.
“It’s going to have to be something that’s mandated from an agency like OSHA or FMCSA. It’s got to be mandated in the industry,” Parfrey said. LL