Johnny Tolliver, who worked for Berkeley's Zero Waste division, died Monday after he was hit by a city garbage truck. Photo: Tolliver family
Johnny Tolliver, who worked for Berkeley’s Zero Waste division, died after being pinned by a city garbage truck. Photo: Tolliver family
Johnny Tolliver, who worked for Berkeley’s Zero Waste division, died after being pinned by a city garbage truck. Photo: Tolliver family

A state agency has fined the city of Berkeley nearly $100,000 after a worker was crushed by his garbage truck in the Berkeley Hills in January, according to a recently concluded report obtained by Berkeleyside on Tuesday.

Johnny Tolliver Sr., 52, was working as part of a two-person team collecting trash when their truck lost its brakes and rolled, pinning Tolliver against a utility pole in January, according to preliminary reports. Although Tolliver was conscious and talking at the scene, at 90 Parnassus Road, he died later that day at Highland Hospital of his injuries. He had worked for the city for more than 25 years.

Scroll down to see the city response.

Tolliver was “fatally crushed” as he tried to stop his truck from rolling down the hill on Parnassus, according to the June report from the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA.

The agency, which is charged with investigating workplace safety issues and on-the-job fatalities, found the city responsible for three accident-related penalties categorized as “serious.” Each carries a fine of $22,500. Three other general penalties categorized as “serious” carry fines of more than $8,400 each, and a fourth serious violation has a listed fine of more than $5,000, according to the June 22 report.

According to Cal/OSHA’s preliminary findings, the city has been ordered to pay nearly $100,000 in connection with Tolliver’s death on the job in January. (Click the list to read the full report.) Source: Cal/OSHA

The three most serious penalties involved brake-related procedures and training: “the employer did not ensure that the parking brake … [of a truck] parked with running engine was set in the engaged mode” and “the employer did not ensure that the garbage truck … was under positive control by engaging the parking brakes while both the operators/drivers exited the vehicle with running engine.” In addition, the city’s injury prevention program was deemed “ineffective” because it failed to “correct the workplace hazard of parking garbage truck vehicles on an incline without having adequate procedures in place to prevent the vehicle from rolling.”

Those three penalties led directly to Tolliver’s death, according to the report.

Cal/OSHA also faulted the city for failing to have a “hazardous energy control procedure” related to machinery, for failing to conduct specific training related to that procedure, for failing to ensure employees had received effective safety training for garbage truck drivers and helpers, and for failing to check Tolliver’s truck at the beginning of each shift to ensure that it was in safe working order.

The city has 15 working days to appeal the Cal/OSHA findings. According to a spokeswoman for the state agency, no appeal had been filed as of Tuesday. Berkeleyside has requested comment from the city. (Update: Scroll down to see the city’s response.)

Less than a week after Cal/OSHA issued that report, during its June 28 meeting, the Berkeley City Council approved a payment of more than $150,000 to settle a claim with the couple who lives in the home damaged in the fatal crash.

The city held a memorial Jan. 14, 2016, to remember and honor Johnny Tolliver Sr. Photo: Mayor Tom Bates’ office
The city held a memorial Jan. 14, 2016, to remember and honor Johnny Tolliver Sr. Photo: Mayor Tom Bates’ office
The city held a memorial Jan. 14, 2016, to remember and honor Johnny Tolliver Sr. Photo: Mayor Tom Bates’ office
The city held a memorial Jan. 14, 2016, to remember and honor Johnny Tolliver Sr. Photo: Mayor Tom Bates’ office

Most of the details of that settlement were sealed in a confidential memo, but according to the brief report associated with the consent calendar item, the city “garbage truck came onto the claimant’s property, causing substantial damage to the yard, front deck, customized landscaping and other property, including knocking down a tree that fell into and caused damage to the house. Claimants seek compensation for the cost of restoring their property to its prior condition.”

A local resident initially reported the accident to Berkeleyside, and said the truck seemed to have experienced brake failure, pinning a worker against what turned out to have been a utility pole.

“The truck was making its rounds when they lost control and rolled into the fenced yard, crushing trees and stopping before hitting the house,” the resident said. “It was really loud and sounded exactly like a giant truck plowing through a fence. The guys were yelling ‘help’ and so several of us ran outside.”

The city recognized Tolliver’s death in numerous ways, holding a public memorial, flying a flag at half-staff, and adjourning multiple public meetings in his honor. The Berkeley mayor called the death “a terrible shock.” It was the first time in anyone’s recollection that a city worker who wasn’t a first responder had died on the job.

Local residents remembered Tolliver on Berkeleyside’s Facebook page, calling him “A sweet and hard working man” with a memorable smile.

The day after his death, Tolliver’s relatives released a statement in which they wrote about their devastation at having lost a devoted family man and loyal city employee known for his infectious smile, “which warmed the hearts of anyone he came into contact with.”

Berkeleyside has requested comment from Tolliver’s family, and will update this story if it is provided.

It was unknown as of publication time whether the family has pursued legal action against the city, but Berkeleyside has asked city staff to provide further information. (Update: That information has not been provided, though the city did provide a statement. It appears below.)

It’s not the first time Cal/OSHA has investigated a Berkeley workplace fatality. In March 2014, the agency fined a construction company $23,000 after a worker was crushed by a 50,000-pound dump truck during construction of the track at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

Update, 8:48 p.m. The city of Berkeley provided the following response earlier Tuesday evening. It appears below in full. The city is reviewing the possibility of an appeal, said spokesman Matthai Chakko. There is no lawsuit pending with the family, he said.

The City will take every necessary action and precaution to ensure the safety of our employees.  This has included working proactively with CalOSHA to implement the recommended changes and many other additional safety measures undertaken to ensure employee safety.  We will continue to work with employees and our Unions to look for ways to improve employee safety.

All of our drivers are required to have Commercial Class A or Class B licenses from the California DMV.  The safety measures the City has taken include the following:

  • The City has re-trained every current operator/driver on the owners’ manual of each truck and we now have signed documentation of those trainings.
  • The City has developed a standard operating procedure for driving on hills, slopes and inclines.
  • The City continues to emphasize employee safety, including posting signs inside the employee break room at the Zero Waste facility that include:

o   Reminders to use the parking brake;

o   Complete Pre-and Post-Trip Safety Inspections;

o   Emphasizing employee safety over property by not chasing a roll-away truck

o   Clarifying operating procedure for hills, slopes and inclines.

  • The City is creating signage to be permanently placed inside of the trucks reminding operators to use the parking brake as well as the “neutral interlock,” a feature that automatically engages brakes on all the wheels when the vehicle is in neutral. When vehicles are in “park,” that is a function of the transmission, so drivers are required to also use “wheel chocks,” triangles that prevent tires from rolling downhill.
  • The City has developed a safety certification program that will review driver safety in the field.
  • The City has implemented standard protocols for mechanics to utilize when making repairs on major pieces of equipment on refuse trucks.
  • The City will work with the Union to implement unannounced inspections of drivers on the field to ensure that they are consistently and routinely utilizing the parking brake as well as the neutral interlock.
  • The City has refined the pre- and post-trip safety inspection process to better document inspections
  • The City will better document its safety training.

We will continue to work with our employees and the Unions to look for other ways to increase and ensure employee safety at all times.

Berkeleyside blotter: Crime in Berkeley, Jan. 7-13 (01.22.16)
Berkeley city worker dies in garbage truck accident (01.12.16)
City worker sent to hospital after garbage truck accident (01.11.16)
Berkeley movie theater under scrutiny for staff safety (02.04.15)
Construction company fined $23K after employee death (03.06.14)
Authorities release name of man killed at King School (08.30.13)
Livermore man killed on construction site at King School (08.27.13)

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[Note: This story was originally published at 3:59 p.m. but the publication time was updated to address a technical problem with the Berkeleyside Daily Briefing.]

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...