Nursery Worker Crushed, Company Had Several Violations of Safety Act

Investigative article

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A West Bloomfield nursery where an employee was crushed to death by a lift truck Thursday had been cited nine times in the past 12 years for state safety violations.

State employees who enforce the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act are investigating the company, English Gardens, to determine whether safety violations or faulty equipment were involved in Thursday morning’s accident.

“You see a lot of accidents like this,” said Kalmin Smith, director of Michigan Consumer and Industry Services, which oversees the MIOSHA division.

The victim, Guillermo Jimenez, 41, of Westland, had worked as a landscaper at English Gardens since April. The company has a nursery, garden center, landscape department, florist and seasonal Christmas center at five locations in metro Detroit. Jimenez had arrived to work about 6 a.m. and was beginning to load salt onto the spreader at the front of the Bobcat lift truck, said Lt. Carl Fuhs of the West Bloomfield police.

“As he crawled out the front, his foot hit the pedal that raises the arms,” Fuhs said. “As these arms raise, there is a cross-member piece that is attached to these two arms that pinched him and caught him between them and the roof of the Bobcat.”

Two other company landscapers were on other sides of the nursery, heard the noise and came immediately to Jimenez’s aid, said company president John Darin.

A medical examiner pronounced Jimenez dead at the scene. The Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the cause of death was compression asphyxia.

The machine is one of three regularly used by employees, and there have been no reported problems with it, Darin said.

Darin said that all workers get training on how to use the equipment when they are hired, and have monthly follow-up classes. He said he did not know details of the training.

The company was fined three times in 1996 for violations that included failure to guard conveyors. It was fined six times in 1988 for violations that included not training employees about fire exits, conveyors and lift trucks. English Gardens, which has 200 employees, was fined and the cases were closed, Smith said.

In the past five years, there have been at least five fatal accidents involving such trucks in Michigan. In 1995 and 1999, a forklift drove off a loading dock. In 1997, a tractor pulling logs flipped over and a lawn mower tipped over. In 1998, a forklift tipped over while unloading a rail car. None involved English Gardens.

Jimenez worked in the 20-person landscaping department. In the spring, he would do outdoor landscaping. In the winter, he decorated homes for Christmas for the company and other outdoor work, including clearing parking lots.

“It was a tragic accident and our prayers are with his family,” said Darin.

The family’s pastor, Carlos Maquiavello, was at the Jimenez home calling family in Mexico and metro Detroit. He simply said, “Guillermo was a very good person.”

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