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Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Project

Worker Dies from Fall Off Wet Tarp

A 51-year-old trucking company employee fell to his death when he slipped off the wet tarp he was using to cover the load on a flatbed truck. The worker was experienced at the task he was performing. No OSHA safety standards were violated.


The incident site was the enclosed part of a loading dock of a company that manufactures building materials. Company workers tarp approximately 200 truckloads every week, covering each with two polyester-coated PVC tarps, one at the rear and one at the front. A forklift operator first drops the folded tarps onto the load; then a tarper spreads and secures them, usually working alone. Although the company has a safety director and holds periodic safety meetings, it has no written safety instructions concerning tarping, as this is not considered a hazardous task. The worker who died in the accident had been employed for 3-1/2 years; his primary job was to change tires and make minor repairs, but he had also tarped loaded trucks many times.

The Incident

The incident took place on a cold and intermittently rainy evening in March. The worker finished his shift and decided to assist his son, who was working for the first time as a tarper; a flatbed truck was in the loading dock, loaded with gypsum wallboard and was ready to be covered. Although the immediate area was enclosed, the tarps were wet and icy from having been stored outdoors. In addition, the soles of the worker's shoes had been worn smooth and were encrusted with gypsum, which becomes slippery when wet.

The two men positioned the rear tarp and secured it. Standing on the wet tarp, the victim then shook out the second one; In the process he slipped, fell about five feet, and struck his head on the concrete floor. He was knocked unconscious and died in the hospital the next day. The medical examiner listed injuries to the neck and spinal cord as the cause of death.


  • Every job task should be evaluated for safety hazards. Clear oral and written directions should be given to all employees.

  • Tarping should be performed by two workers, especially when tarps are wet. No one should stand or walk on a wet tarp. Instead, the workers should position the tarps while they stand on the loading dock at the sides of the loaded truck.

  • Footgear or workboots should have adequate tread.

  • Tarps should be stored in an area protected from the weather, to decrease the likelihood of their becoming wet or icy.

  • Printed warning, such as Use Caution: Slippery When Wet, should be conspicuous on both sides of every tarp.

Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Project

The New Jersey Department of Health, in conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is currently conducting a research study of work-related fatal injuries. This project, known as FACE (Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation), seeks to identify the factors that contribute to electrical, fall, and confined space fatalities. The FACE study will help in the development and use of improved safety measures for preventing fatal injuries in the future.

We hope you find the FACE Facts informative and that you will share it with others. If you have any comments or questions, please call the FACE Project at (609) 984-1863.

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Last Modified: Tuesday, 17-Jul-12 14:12:42