Irving Oil Commercial GP admits to breaching safety regulations, but the company and its lawyer say the violations did not result in the highway death of a public employee.
“The failures on the part of Irving did not cause the accident,” said defence lawyer David Eaton.
In provincial court in St. John’s Thursday, the company pleaded guilty to three charges under the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Judge Colin Flynn fined the company $13,500 for the violations and ordered it to pay $2,000 to the minister of Service NL for public education regarding occupational safety on provincial highways.
The sentence was an agreed recommendation from Eaton and Crown prosecutor Mike King.
Irving Oil Commercial GP pleaded guilty to failing to provide proper information, training, instruction and supervision to employees; failing to ensure necessary protective clothing and devices were used by employees; and failing to ensure safe work procedures were followed.
Charges were withdrawn against the company’s two other entities — Irving Oil Refining and Irving Oil Terminals — in exchange for Irving Commercial’s guilty pleas.
The company was charged after a senior engineer with the Department of Transportation and Works died in an accident at 1 p.m. on July 5, 2011, on the Outer Ring Road in St. John’s. He was there with others to discuss highway ruts and the potential use of alternate asphalt mixes to minimize wear and tear when he was struck by an SUV.
Two other employees — an Irving employee and a City of St. John’s employee — were hit and seriously injured.
According to the facts of the case, nine employees from Irving, the city, the department and MTE Services had driven to the site in three vehicles, which they parked on the right shoulder.
Four of them walked across the eastbound lanes towards the median by a guard rail. Two others were on the side of the road attempting to cross and join the others, while three stayed on the side.
The driver of the SUV was forced to brake after vehicles in front of him suddenly slowed down. The driver lost control, crossed the left eastbound lane and struck three of the four men at the median.
RNC Const. Barry Osmond, who investigated the accident, revealed that the only warning for approaching traffic was vehicle hazard lights and an amber resolving light bar on a single vehicle parked on the right shoulder of the eastbound lane.
“This did not give motorists sufficient time or distance to adjust their driving,” investigators noted. “Vehicles travelling in the left lane might even have difficulty seeing these lights due to view obstruction from right-lane traffic.”
In his report, Osmond said drivers are often distracted by flashing lights and often fail to spot workers on the scene.
“It is my thoughts that this collision occurred when drivers began to react to their own best judgment to an unanticipated change in driving environment,” wrote Osmond.
“Many drivers encountering this would brake sharply, as happened in this case. … It tends to have a chain-reaction effect.”
He also noted the driver of the SUV was inexperienced and that the vehicle was not his.
Irving’s accident investigation report stated that “there was no clear understanding of (Occupational Health and Safety) policy traffic control by anyone on site.”
It states that Irving Oil personnel were in an environment they would not normally be exposed to, working on the road, and were not aware of the personal protective equipment and traffic control policies.
It also states there was no discussion of a Department of Transportation-approved traffic control manual or policy.
While the Irving employee who was hit was not wearing a fluorescent safety vest, the other two men were. Every driver involved in the accident told police they saw everyone on the road.
“Visibility was not an issue,” Eaton said. “Protective equipment would not have made a difference.”
The Department of Transportation and the City of St. John’s face charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Both have pleaded not guilty and will go to trial Aug. 20.
The widow of the man killed was in court Thursday, but opted not to speak to reporters.