A garbage truck driver may have triggered his own death last summer when he inadvertently hit the wrong switch on a control panel, an investigative report released Jan. 17 states.

The five-month investigation by WorkSafeBC said Ralston Vassell was not driving his regular truck on the day of the fatal crash and suggested he could have accidentally pressed the “tip” switch instead of the “top door” switch, the report read.

Vassell, 40, was working an overtime shift for his employer, Waste Management, July 19, 2005, and was about to make his last collection of the day when the garbage box on the truck he was driving rose and collided with a pedestrian overpass, according to the Tri-City News (British Columbia, Canada).

The impact forced the overpass down onto the truck’s cab and Vassell was crushed.

In the 42-page WorkSafeBC report, lead investigator Lynda Foran concluded the hot, sunny weather coupled with fatigue may have also been factors in the incident; Vassell had worked the four days prior as regular shifts, the report stated.

But the fact Vassell wasn’t driving his usual truck appears to be the main cause. Although Vassell had driven that truck before — one of the oldest in the company’s fleet — it was a different style than most, having a garbage box that elevated and tipped out the trash rather than a box that pushed it out, the report read.

“It is plausible that the driver [Vassell] pressed the ‘tip’ switch instead of pressing the ‘top door’ switch,” the report said. Vassell would have pressed the tip switch for at least 10 seconds, “the time that would have been required for the garbage box to reach the halfway up position.”

The report also states many garbage drivers push the control panel switch on as they approach their next stop to pack the trash down; this switch was on when investigators examined the truck Vassell was driving.

Waste Management does not allow garbage drivers to activate the switch when on the road — and especially on a highway, the report read, thus, Vassell wasn’t following company procedure.

The report concluded the design and construction of the overpass did not contribute to the fatal accident, and the vehicle was in good working order, having been inspected six times that year — including four days before the crash.

Since the fatal collision, Waste Management has issued an alert to its garbage drivers to refer to company procedure and to be aware of hazards on the road and vehicle clearances. As well, the company has retrofitted audible alarms in its trucks when the garbage box goes up.