Forklift wasn't part of job description: Teen was trained to be 'foot soldier,' not work with heavy machinery, Rona store manager says

Sixteen-year-old Mitchell Tanner worked only two shifts at his new job before he was killed.

"He told his friends it was his dream to work (at Rona)," said friend Hailey Hume, 15, standing at a memorial site erected in Tanner's memory. "He thought it would be so much fun."

The Grade 10 student was working his second shift at the Rona Building Centre in St. Albert on Saturday when the accident occurred.

Tanner was hanging off the side of the forklift as it was being driven by one of his friends, a 17-year-old student at St. Albert High School. The forklift tipped over and crushed him.

Tanner had previously worked at McDonald's and Panago Pizza, and friends and classmates from Paul Kane High School recalled his excitement over his new job. He was making dinner for his family when Rona called him with the job offer. Tanner immediately shared the good news with one of his best friends.

"He was just so happy about it," said Nick MacDonald, who has known Tanner for two years.

"He said he'd be working in the lumber yard and using forklifts."

A school memorial for Tanner was erected in the student lounge Monday, but his closest friends preferred to remember him in their own way. Several students at school on Monday were wearing purple ribbons, Tanner's favourite colour.

Lilacs were taped to the side of a nearby overpass where Tanner used to hang out and ride his longboard. Messages were written on the overpass in marker and pen, addressed to "Big Mitch" or the "gentle giant." Tanner was more than six feet tall, his friends said.

"He just liked to have fun," said friend Niki Jaenen, 17, who fondly recalled the Halloween when Tanner painted himself entirely green. "Knowing Mitch, if he stepped on the side of that forklift it wasn't to go fast or anything. It was to have fun."

Tanner was hired at Rona as a "foot soldier" in the lumber yard, cleaning and helping customers retrieve orders. Store manager Barry Campbell said there are two or three other teenaged foot soldiers at Rona, and none of them are supposed to operate forklifts.

He said Tanner had already completed his job training when he died, including workplace safety training, but hadn't received forklift training because he was never expected to use one.

"What was going on was outside the parameters and guidelines of the company for (his) position," said Campbell. "He was trained for the foot-soldier job, but usually for the first few weeks they're with someone else."

Two years ago, the Alberta Federation of Labour tried to introduce changes to Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Code, which it says is "virtually silent on the issue of forklift safety."

"Frankly, I'm heartsick," said federation president Gil McGowan. "I can't help but think that if recommendations for change had been embraced and acted upon two years ago, we might have avoided this tragedy."

There are no rules in Alberta about who can operate a forklift, said McGowan, unlike in Manitoba where forklift operators have to be certified.

The weekend's accident is being investigated by Workplace Health and Safety. Spokesman Barrie Harrison said Tanner is the second death in the 15-19 age group this year; last year there were none.

Friends and classmates said Tanner was a model student who aspired to be a teacher and volunteered every Friday at Sir Alexander Mackenzie Elementary School.

"He was amazing, there are no words to describe him," said friend Katie Hagan, who was supposed to meet Tanner after work the day he died. "Everybody just loved him."

Edmonton Journal, Tues Jun 10 2008
Byline: Jennifer Yang

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