James Kerr hasn’t worked since the rear door of a garbage bin swung open, coming down hard on his head and side, and sending him into long, painful months of physical therapy and counselling. That was more than a year ago.
In June 2013, Kerr, 39, was working his shift as a flagman at Robin Hood Bay, guiding roll-off trucks to dump their loads. Roll-off trucks lift the bins up on rails, tilting them for loading, unloading and disposal.
“I was backing in another vehicle … at the dump, and the guy who was driving veered over my way too much when he was emptying out the bin, and the door came free,” he said. “It’s truly not the driver’s fault that the door came free, because no one yet to date has put a proper safety latch on the bin doors, so this happens quite often, actually. These doors pop open.”
They don’t always hit someone, said Kerr, but the one that did was “six-hundred pounds of door hitting a 200-pound man.”
It smacked Kerr hard on the right side.
“There was no bruising or anything. I’m a pretty built guy. I did a lot of exercises, stuff like that, so I’m a fair size guy that way,” he said. “But anyone else that was on the staff that day, they would have been dead, because they’re much smaller than myself.”
That was June 26, 2013.
“That’s the day I lost my life as I know it,” he said.
Months of occupational therapy followed — and he’s still not back to full physical function — as well as counselling.
He’s been collecting workers’ compensation since the accident, apart from one failed attempt to return to work.
“I was having nausea, and I just couldn’t concentrate on my job, because all I could see was all the dangers, and to see that nothing has changed. I brought attention to a change and nobody would listen,” he said.
In the year since the accident, he’s been frustrated by what he sees as an unwillingness on the part of any party involved to do something about the problem.
It wouldn’t take much to fix it, he said, just a clip to prevent the door from coming loose. The clip could be rigged to attach to the trucks instead of the bins, he said, meaning far fewer clips would be needed than if the clips attached to the bins.
“It’s been notified to every level of management down at the dump and the management of these companies, and no one seems to care just to spend the $4 which changes it. It’s a life-changing $4 to spend, because you put on a ring clip, it would hook on. You wouldn’t have to make adjustments to the bin, nothing. It’s just a $4 clip to go on the end of a chain and stop it from ever happening.”
Kerr’s supervisors at Robin Hood Bay either declined to speak to The Telegram, or didn’t return calls, as did management at Newfound Disposal, the contractor involved.
Kerr said he’s suing the company, although he declined to say for how much.
“No one’s either (accepting) fault or taking a heroic step forward to change things for the better,” he said. “These companies, they’re making thousands a day. There’s no reason why they can’t spend $100 for safety.”
He’s done working at the landfill, he says.
“My boss said unless I’m willing to return to the position I originally was in — which I won’t be physically able to — that there’s no more work for me.”
He doesn’t know what he’s going to do next.
“I’ve always been a physical-job kind of person, and I’ve got no good use in my left side anymore. So I’m pretty screwed, to be honest.”
He says he won’t give up his attempt to change the bins, though.
“I just want safety for the people behind me, so they don’t have to go through what I went through.”