Information on OHS cases not easily accessible

Ashley
Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Posting the information online could help save lives

A charge laid against a company or supervisor under the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act is not the final step in preventing future accidents.
It is also not an automatic finding of guilt.

Pat Stamp (right) and Colleen Dalton, wife of Wayne Dalton, are seen outside provincial court in St. John’s in this Telegram file photo. Stamp took part in the investigations and legal follow-up to the flash fire on the oil tanker Kometik on April 8, 2006 that burned him and killed Wayne Dalton. Stamp has since told his story publicly and tells workers to be mindful of their own workplace safety. — TC Media file photo

Last in a four-part series

First and foremost, cases must be followed through the courts.

Charges against companies are common fodder for news releases from Service NL, but the result is not always given the same public notice. Added to that, the Crown does not issue news releases upon conviction and media outlets do not always follow up on the charges laid.

This collectively leads to problems of public perception and education in this province.

When OHS charges are dropped, if unreported, there can remain a public perception of guilt. And when guilt is found, a lack of reporting can mean nothing is taken away from the accident.

In the world of forgotten cases, in January 2008, 18 workers were sent to the hospital in Grand Falls-Windsor for observation or treatment after a problem, allegedly a gas leak, at Teck Resources’ Duck Pond mine near Millertown.

After an investigation by OHS investigators, nine charges were laid against the company in January 2010, alleging various violations of the OHS Act. What is less well known is the fact that all of the charges were ultimately dropped.

Crown attorney Patricia Carpenter, assigned to the case, could not recall the detailed reasoning offhand when contacted this past week, but said she knows new evidence and a look at the available evidence led to an understanding there was no reasonable chance of conviction.

“Each case is decided on its merits,” she said.

•••

After a workplace accident, lessons learned can help prevent similar accidents in future, if they are passed along to workers.

In British Columbia, serious OHS cases are summarized and published online, providing the lessons not only for workers within the affected company, but for all workers.

In June 2013, a construction worker was killed in that province when he fell 10.5 metres through a gap in a roof he was working on, to a concrete floor below. A summary of the case, paired with tips for workers in similar situations, is now online, titled: “Improper use of lifeline results in death of worker.”

The worker had been attached to a piece of fall-protection equipment, but “its steel cable broke during the fall.”

WorkSafeBC found the break was because the lifeline was not used correctly, being designed to be anchored above the worker instead of on a low-slope roof.

WorkSafeBC’s online pages can easily be printed and posted at construction work sites, with drawings included to catch the eye.

Similarly straightforward, potentially lifesaving lessons might be more often conveyed from serious accidents in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It was a clear day on Jan. 11, 2005, -25 C with the windchill, the second day back to work after Christmas break for a worker at the Voisey’s Bay mine site, when he was run over by a front-end loader and killed.

It was the first fatality since the site started up in 2002, and it was a preventable death.

“The bucket of the loader caused a blind spot whereby the operator could not see the worker walking in front of the loader,” states the OHS inspectors’ report.

Investigators found any operator of the loader, having the bucket at three to four feet or more high, increased their blind spot enough to have fatal consequences. The manufacturer of the loader called for a bucket lift of just 15 inches.

OHS provided the information and further recommendations to the company, suggesting it: write up procedures for snowclearing, provide highly visible apparel (suggesting placing reflective tape on the company’s white hard hats, so workers stand out in the snow) and provide traffic control for pedestrians near heavy equipment.

An executive summary of the report on the worker’s death was recently obtained by The Telegram through an access to information request.

The paper was told all such reports could only be obtained through such requests, with the minimum cost of $5 a filing.

•••

Caught in a flash fire on the oil tanker Kometik on April 8, 2006, suffering devastating burns to more than 40 per cent of his body, Pat Stamp was devastated by his workplace accident, one that also claimed the life of a coworker, Wayne Dalton.

Even as Stamp dealt with his recovery, he followed the investigation into the fire, the reports and the legal followup. He re-told and re-lived his story time and again.

He still takes issue with some of the process — changes in investigators and delays incurred — as well as the penalties issued at the end of the day for the ultimately identified safety deficiencies.

“I didn’t feel very happy at the end result that there was nothing there for Wayne’s family, Colleen or Nicholas — (his) young boy who wasn’t a year old,” he said in a recent interview.

However, Stamp also believes similar accidents can be prevented in the future. It is why he has acted as an advocate for workplace safety — sharing his story with grade-school classes and workers — promoting vigilance.

He wants workers to understand the risk in what they do and look at their precautions — beyond even the company paperwork.

“Safety procedures and policies are put in place, not being followed correctly and leading to disasters. They can put whatever they like on paper, but if they’re not followed and you haven’t got somebody to check and make sure they’re followed, its going to happen again,” he said.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Service NL, The Telegram

Geographic location: Grand Falls-Windsor, Duck Pond, Millertown Columbia

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  • Maralea Chapin
    December 14, 2014 - 01:17

    The FSSA office in Kokomo, Indiana is a very difficult one to get into when you have to walk with a walker. There was another lady leaving when I was at the door to go in, and she also made a comment on how hard it was to go in and out. The parking spaces are across the street from the business. There a few in front of the office, but they are always full. Is there anything that can be done to have it easily accessible? Maralea Chapin