Safety Issues


Truck Driver Buried by Mulch at Town Compost Site

It was just another visit to the town compost site for Sam. The trucking company that he worked for had a contract with the town and he was there almost every day. He knew the procedures. Drivers pulled up to the Staging Area to prepare their trucks to accept a load. Then drivers pulled up to the Loading Area; once trucks were in this area it meant that drivers were ready to get their trucks loaded with mulch. The town loading procedure required a driver to stay in the cab for the entire duration of the loading operation. However the policy was not always enforced.  

Sam’s trailer was equipped with a walking floor, an automated unloading mechanism with movable floor slats. The trucking company that Sam worked for reported that drivers usually covered the front trailer wall and a section of the floor before loading. It was believed that the tarp could keep debris off the floor and reduce manual sweeping after unloading. 


Sam parked his rig in the Loading Area with the front part of the trailer next to a raised loading ramp as directed by the town staff. The town equipment operator, Josh, was preparing to load the mulch with a front end loader. The height of Sam’s truck was such that Josh didn’t have a view of the inside of the trailer body from his position in the loader. After he deposited the first bucket of mulch into the trailer, Josh noticed that the rear trailer gate was open and the cab door was ajar. Sam wasn’t visible in the cab. Josh immediately radioed his supervisor to alert him that Sam was not in the cab. One town worker called 911. Others started digging in the mulch in the trailer. Police and rescue workers arrived within minutes. Sam was uncovered facing down on the bottom of the trailer with no pulse and with blisters forming on his skin. The temperature of the mulch was 135 degrees. Sam was transported to a special hospital unit, but he died 15 hours later as a result of the 3rd degree burns and internal injuries from the weight of the mulch that landed on top of him. A piece of blue tarp was found buried in the mulch. It is believed that Sam had entered the trailer from the rear to cover the walking floor just before Josh arrived with the first load of mulch. Sam was 35 years old. 




  • Town compost sites should establish and enforce a standard safety procedure that requires all visiting drivers remain inside the cab during loading. 

  • Trucking companies should ensure that their drivers receive training in site specific procedures and communication methods, have a clear understanding of the procedures, and know that they are expected to follow them at all times.  

  • Drivers should NEVER enter a trailer during loading operations unless there is clear communication that it is safe to do so. 
  • Trucking companies should consider the use of an automated tarp system that has controls on the exterior of the trailer, so that drivers can position the tarp without entering the trailer.

New York State Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (NY FACE)
Bureau of Occupational Health and Injury Prevention
New York State Department of Health
Corning Tower, Room 1336
Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12237
Ph (518) 402-7900 Fax (518) 402-7909

Safety Issues is presented by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in partnership with the National Truckers Association (NTA), with major contributions from State partners funded by NIOSH through the Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program. The goal of the FACE Program is to prevent occupational fatalities across the nation by identifying and investigating work situations at high risk for injury and then developing and disseminating prevention strategies to those who can intervene in the workplace. State partners who contribute Safety Issues postings based on recent investigative reports are California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Washington.

This month’s Safety Issues is based on an investigative report from the New York State FACE Program. The complete report “Truck Driver Buried by Mulch at Town Solid Waste Site” (06NY084) including detailed case information, recommendations and discussion is available at Additional NY FACE Investigation Reports, Annual Reports, Hazard Alerts and other publications can be accessed at

The Safety Issues and Investigation Reports which are the products of NIOSH Cooperative State partners are presented here in their original unedited form from the states. They are intended for educational purposes only. The findings and conclusions in each report are those of the individual Cooperative State partner and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the NIOSH.