Workplace Safety Training: A Call to Action from a Modesto Mishap

Fred Von Gunten III
Fred Von Gunten III photo provided by his family (Image credit: The Modesto Bee)

On a sad afternoon on October 26, 2023, a terrible accident happened in Modesto, California. At a place called Champion Industrial Contractors, a young man named Fred Von Gunten III, who was 21 years old, got into a scary situation while trying to operate a forklift, a machine he wasn’t trained to use. When the firefighters from Modesto Fire Department got there, they found Fred trapped under the heavy machine. Even though they tried really hard, they couldn’t save Fred’s life. This awful event has left Fred’s family and the whole community heartbroken. It also makes us think hard about why Workplace Safety Training is so important for workers to stay safe at their jobs.

Importance of Workplace Safety Training and Certification

Workplace Safety Training _a group of forklift operators sitting in a semi-circle around an instructor
a group of forklift operators sitting in a semi-circle around an instructor (Image credit: Equip Insights)

Operating heavy machinery like forklifts demands more than just a willingness to do the job; it calls for a solid foundation of Workplace Safety Training and certification to ensure the safety of not only the operator but also those working around them. 

Forklift accidents are unfortunately more common than we’d hope. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), roughly 34,900 serious injuries occur each year involving forklifts in the United States, and about 85 fatalities are reported annually due to forklift mishaps.

The laws surrounding workplace safety are clear and stringent. For instance, OSHA mandates that operators must be trained under a program that includes both formal instruction and practical training. 

This training encompasses operating instructions, warnings, and precautions; steering and maneuvering; visibility; vehicle capacity and stability; and any vehicle inspection and maintenance that the operator will be required to perform.

Moreover, OSHA’s regulations stipulate that refresher training is necessary whenever an operator has been observed operating the vehicle unsafely, been involved in an accident or near-miss, received an evaluation that reveals the operator is not operating the truck safely, or is assigned to drive a different type of truck. This is a testament to the rigor and continuous effort required to ensure safety when operating heavy machinery.

Despite these robust regulations, not all companies adhere to them diligently. In the case of Fred Von Gunten III, it appears that there might have been a lapse in following these essential safety protocols. 

Fred was employed as a delivery driver, a role that didn’t necessitate operating a forklift, yet he found himself behind the controls of one on that fateful day. His lack of training and certification in operating a forklift had dire consequences, underscoring the tragic reality of what can happen when safety protocols are sidestepped.

The tragic loss of young Fred serves as a somber reminder of the potential consequences when the importance of proper training and certification is overlooked. It’s a call to action for employers to uphold the highest standards of safety training, ensuring that every worker goes home safely at the end of the day.

Uncovering Truth: The Investigation

a well-lit table featuring an array of forklift training certificates neatly framed.
a well-lit table featuring an array of forklift training certificates (Image credit: Equip Insights)

The tragic accident at Champion Industrial Contractors has sparked a serious investigation led by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). When something as grave as this happens, it’s crucial to look into every detail to understand what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again.

Cal/OSHA has a big responsibility to make sure workplaces are safe for everyone. They check if companies are following the rules for safety. In this case, they will be looking into whether Champion Industrial followed all the necessary safety training guidelines, especially regarding the use of heavy machinery like forklifts.

Fred’s accident raises many questions. Was the company aware that Fred didn’t have the training to operate a forklift? Were there trained supervisors on the scene to guide him? These and many other questions will be part of the investigation. 

Also, the reaction of Champion Industrial is under scrutiny. It’s important to see how companies respond to accidents like this. Do they take responsibility? Do they take steps to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again? It’s not just about finding what went wrong, but also about making sure it doesn’t happen in the future.

The Public Information Officer for the California Department of Industrial Relations, Derek Moore, described Fred as a “forklift operator”. However, it’s unclear whether Fred had the proper certification or training to carry this title, especially since his father revealed he was hired as a delivery driver.

The investigation will take time, but it’s a crucial step towards understanding the lapses and ensuring that every worker is safe and properly trained to perform their job. It’s about learning from tragic mistakes to create a safer working environment for all.

Impact on the Family

a somber candlelight vigil held outdoors during twilight (Image credit: Equip Insights)
Image credit: Equip Insights

The ripples of the tragic accident extend far beyond the confines of the workplace, touching the hearts and lives of Fred Von Gunten III’s family and community. The sudden and terrible loss of a young man in his prime is a wound that may never fully heal.

Fred’s father, Fred Von Gunten Jr., spoke with a heavy heart about his son’s untimely demise. His words reflected the anguish and frustration that many families feel when a loved one is lost due to preventable workplace accidents. 

He emphasized that Fred was not meant to operate a forklift, a task far removed from his designated role as a delivery driver. This crucial detail underpins the gravity of ensuring that only qualified individuals operate heavy machinery.

Fred was not just a statistic in the grim tally of workplace accidents; he was a person full of life, with dreams and aspirations. He had recently taken a significant step in his personal life by getting engaged, a joyous occasion overshadowed by the tragedy that followed soon after. 

His father reminisced about Fred’s vibrant personality, his love for making people laugh, and his shared passion for football with him. These memories, though precious, are now bittersweet, underscored by a life cut short.

Fred’s story is a stark reminder of the human cost borne by families and communities when workplace safety is compromised. It’s a call to action, urging employers to uphold safety standards not just as a legal requirement but as a moral obligation to protect the lives entrusted to them.

Preventative Measures

a dynamic safety training session in a large
a dynamic safety training session in a large workshop (Image credit: Equip Insights)

The heart-wrenching incident involving Fred Von Gunten III shines a glaring light on the dire need for preventative measures in Workplace Safety Training. It’s not enough to react to tragedies; proactive steps must be taken to ensure such incidents are avoided in the first place.

Comprehensive Training:

Companies should invest in thorough training programs for employees, especially those operating heavy machinery. This training should be ongoing, to keep everyone up-to-date with the latest safety protocols.

Strict Adherence to Regulations:

Employers must adhere to the guidelines set forth by regulatory bodies like OSHA. These guidelines are there for a reason—to keep workers safe.

Proper Supervision:

Having well-trained supervisors on-site to monitor the operation of heavy machinery can catch potential issues before they escalate into serious problems.

Routine Safety Audits:

Conducting regular safety audits can help identify lapses in safety protocols, allowing for corrective action to be taken promptly.

Encouraging a Culture of Safety:

Fostering a culture where employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns about safety issues is crucial. When workers feel heard and valued, they’re more likely to adhere to safety protocols and report unsafe conditions.

Investing in Safe Equipment:

Employers should ensure that all equipment, including forklifts, are well-maintained and safe to operate.

Emergency Preparedness:

Having clear procedures in place for emergencies and ensuring all staff are familiar with these procedures can make a significant difference when responding to accidents.

The loss of Fred Von Gunten III is a sorrowful reminder of the importance of workplace safety. By implementing robust preventative measures, employers can work towards creating a safer environment, ensuring that every worker returns home safely at the end of the day.


The tragic loss of Fred Von Gunten III deeply affects us all. His dreams and laughter have been taken away, leaving a painful emptiness. We pray for Fred’s peace and offer our heartfelt support to his grieving family. This reminds us of the importance of workplace safety. Every day, we should remember Fred and put safety first. We must work towards ensuring no family endures such sorrow again. Let’s commit to safer workplaces and, in doing so, honor Fred’s memory.



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