Truck driver dies while unloading paper at Port Angeles mill

The state Department of Labor and Industries is investigating the death of a truck driver who was struck by a 1,500-pound cardboard bale at a McKinley Paper Company unloading area.

Joseph Coolidge Oiness, 47, of Sequim, was pronounced dead Thursday afternoon, Feb. 18, at Olympic Medical Center following the 1:15 p.m. incident at the Ediz Hook mill west of downtown Port Angeles, according to a Port Angeles Police Department report.

The Old Blyn Highway resident, a driver for Hermann Brothers Logging & Construction Inc. of Port Angeles, was opening the rear doors of a semi-trailer loaded with compressed bales of cardboard, a spokesperson for the Labor and Industries said last week.

The agency is conducting an investigation of the company as it does for all workplace fatalities, Dina Lorraine of Labor & Industries said on Feb. 19.

“Some time during the transport the load shifted,” she said in an email.

“When the employee unlatched the last door the weight of the bales leaning against the door forced the door open and a 1,500-pound bale of compressed cardboard landed on the employee.”

Oiness had been employed at Hermann Brothers for about 10 years and that he had a high-school-age daughter, according to co-owner Bill Hermann.

A McKinley Paper Company spokesperson did not return calls for comment.

There were no eyewitnesses, according to a police report.

A company forklift driver who unloads the bales told police he saw Oiness’ truck back up to the company docks.

He said he turned away to load more of the large bundles on a conveyor and looked back to see Oiness on the ground, his midsection and legs covered by one of two bales that had fallen out of the truck.

The forklift operator said that he and a coworker lifted the bale off of Oiness, who soon lost consciousness.

Safety and Training Manager Grant Rider said Oiness was unconscious when he arrived at the scene.

He said it appeared that Oiness opened the first door on the right of the back of the truck and latched it shut to the trailer before opening the second door, which swung open and knocked Oiness down, according to the police report.

Viada said medics responded, and Oiness was transported to OMC.

Photos of the scene were taken after he was taken to the hospital, Rider said. It had been cleared and cleaned by the time police arrived.

Hermann said on Feb. 19 that the cube-shaped bales were transported, unstrapped or untied down, in a 53-foot truck.

“They stack them in there and the trailer contains them,” he said.

“Why this sad thing happened, I don’t know, and we’re really going to miss his talents, that’s for sure.

“It’s just a very sad event, and anything I say would be speculative.”

Viada said the police investigation has been closed.

Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney-Coroner Mark Nichols said Oiness’ remains were transported on Feb. 19 to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy.

The Labor & Industries investigation included interviews conducted last week at McKinley that were completed, Lorraine said.

The agency’s review of safety protocols is focused on Hermann Brothers, she said.

“If they find anything, they issue a citation,” Lorraine said, adding the company also could be fined.

The investigation could take up to six months.

“One of the things we will look at is the truck, and if (the load) needed to be secured,” she said.

“That’s a ‘gimme.’”

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