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Federal investigation finds Athens lumber company ignored safety precautions before employee's death

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A federal workplace safety investigation found an Athens lumber manufacturer failed to protect its employees, ultimately resulting in one employee's death.

Cassandra Hill, 45, was killed at Sunbelt Forest Products Corporation when she was run over by a forklift as she walked through the lumber shipping yard on Nov. 15, 2021, according to investigators and the Limestone County coroner.

Investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Sunbelt endangered employees by letting them walk where forklift drivers could not see them, as well as failing to mark travel aisles for trucks, forklifts and pedestrians.

The company further failed to require forklift drivers to keep a clear view of the driving path and did not remove damaged vehicles from service, according to USDOL. Some of the damaged forklifts noted in OSHA's report had cracked windshields, a broken window, a missing rearview mirror or a compartment door that wouldn't stay closed.

As a result, OSHA has proposed $53,866 in penalties.

"A forklift typically weighs between 4,000 and 9,000 pounds and poses significant risk of severe injury or death to workers who may be struck by this equipment," said OSHA Area Office Director Ramona Morris. "Employers must take precautions in workplaces that use powered industrial vehicles to prevent devastating incidents and the loss of someone's life."

Sunbelt has 15 business days to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA or contest the findings.

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