An Edmonton company has been fined $275,000 in Alberta provincial court for violating the occupational health and safety code, after a worker sustained fatal crush injuries at a local construction site in November 2010.
“This death did not occur solely from the momentary inattention of an excavator operator and a gust of wind. It is the consequence of the failure of the employer to comply with the clear direction in the code,” said provincial court judge Janet Dixon.
“Any work that is done has dangers which can be managed through a combination of engineering solutions, policies, procedures and effective management. No worker in Alberta is expected to assume the risk of death or serious injury when he or she follows the directions of his employer.”
The judge made this statement in a decision for a case involving Sureway Construction Ltd.
The Edmonton company provides underground storm and sanitary pipe installation services.
According to court documents, Sureway assigned a crew of workers to install a storm sewer pipe at a worksite in Edmonton on Nov. 17, 2010.
A trench had been excavated and the horizontal pipe was installed. A vertical shaft was dug out to permit the installation of a vertical manhole barrel to be connected to the horizontal piping.
The vertical manhole barrel weighed 11,000 kg. It was 2.4 metres high and 2.9 metres in diameter. The barrel was lowered into the excavation by an excavator.
Five workers were assigned to stand at the bottom of the excavation for the purpose of rotating the barrel so that the hole in the side of it aligned with the horizontal piping.
One of the workers was a designated signaller, responsible for providing directions to the excavator operator as he lowered the barrel. It was a blustery day.
The operator had difficulty understanding the instructions provided by the signaller and opened the excavator door to clarify the communication.
A gust of wind blew the door of the excavator open.
When the operator instinctively reached for the door, his elbow struck a control within the excavator.
The movement of the control caused the excavator to rotate and caused the barrel to swing toward one wall of the excavation.
“One of the five workers in the bottom of the excavation was standing against the excavation wall,” said the judge in her decision.
“The swinging barrel struck him. He sustained fatal crush injuries and was pronounced dead at the work site.”
The Alberta safety code requires an employer to use a tag line, which allows the worker to have separation from the load, if workers are in danger from the movement of a load being lifted, lowered or moved by a piece of equipment.
Sureway admits that it breached this requirement by having workers directly at the bottom of the excavation to guide the barrel, rather than using tag lines from a safer distance.
It is this manoeuver, which caused the death of its worker. In response to the fatality, Sureway reached out to the family and constructed a memorial hockey arena in the name of the deceased worker.
It undertook a comprehensive safety review, which resulted in a “Vertical Manhole Barrel Placement Safe Work Procedure,” issued November 29, 2010.
This procedure was developed to assist workers and foremen in managing the hazards of manhole barrels.
Sureway also entered into discussions with the manufacturer of manhole barrels, which resulted in the design being re-engineered to permit the use of a tag-line system.
“The engineering and procedural changes initiated by or adopted by the accused (Sureway) since November 17, 2010 highlight the tragedy of this death,” said Dixon.
“All of those steps could and should have been taken prior to the death of this worker. The initiatives are not novel: all are contemplated or mandated by the act and the code.”
Dixon said the existing provisions of provincial safety regulations were adequate to moderate the risk that materialized in this incident.
She concludes this death occurred because Sureway failed to comply with the clear provisions of the safety code and act.
For this reason, Dixon said a high monetary penalty of $275,000 was necessary to achieve the principle of deterrence.