Chewy.com is fighting a proposed $14,000 OSHA fine in a forklift driver’s death

Robert Pete’s profile picture from his last Facebook post, 16 days before his death
Robert Pete’s profile picture from his last Facebook post, 16 days before his death Facebook

Online pet supplies retailer Chewy.com is contesting the $14,323 fine OSHA proposed after the agency investigated the December death of a forklift driver at Chewy’s Ocala facility.

That’s according to OSHA.gov, which shows two citations in the death of Robert Pete, 49, who died while operating a stand-up forklift on Dec. 16.

Of the two violations, the one classified as Serious, carrying a $13,260 fine, stems from the facility exposing workers to struck-by or crushing hazards from using the Raymond 7000 series of forklifts. On those forklifts, OSHA’s Citation and Notification of Penalty says, there’s a struck-by and crushing hazard for workers because “the first level horizontal pallets shelf beams were higher than the top of the forklift operator compartment.”

The citation quotes the Raymond Forklift Operators Manual warning about that potential problem.

“Employers are required to assess and abate hazards that are present, and that may expose workers to injuries, illnesses, or fatalities,” OSHA Jacksonville Area Office Director Michelle Gonzalez said in the Department of Labor release. “This tragedy might have been prevented if the employer had complied with published safety standards, and adhered to hazard warnings provided by equipment manufacturers.”

Chewy.com didn’t respond to a May 16 Miami Herald email asking if the company had any comment on the proposed fine.

According to an Ocala police report, witnesses told police Pete was “pinned between the forklift and a shelf beam” with “his feet...suspended off the forklift” and a “purplish” face.

Co-worker Theodore Riffle told police he used Pete’s ID card to restart the forklift, which Chewy’s head of safety said shuts down automatically when it hits something. Once Riffle freed Pete, he and two other co-workers began CPR. Ocala Fire Rescue arrived and took Pete to Ocala Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The police report says Pete’s wife, Jasmine Pete, told Ocala police her husband complained of chest pains in recent days without seeing a doctor. But the Marion County medical examiner ruled the cause of death as “compression asphyxia sustained in an occupation accident, manner ruled accidental.”

“Compression asphyxia” means, the National Center for Biotechnology Information says, “the respiration is prevented by external pressure on the body. It’s usually due to external force compressing the trunk due to heavy weight over chest/abdomen and is associated with internal injuries.”

In other words, Pete was too crushed to breathe.

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Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.