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Permanently injured worker Thomas Grace says he is pleased, but wants to see change
Thomas Grace wore a black T-shirt bearing orange lettering to court Tuesday.
"Hard case," it read, and Grace said he had chosen it for its double entendre.
To some, he may be seen as a hard case or a squeaky wheel, he explained. He said the expression also fits what he's been through when it comes to the legal matter that brought him to court.
On Sept. 11, 2015, Grace was a roofer employed by Flynn Canada Ltd. to work on the construction of the Paul Reynolds Centre in St. John's, when he fell through a hole on top of the recreation centre and down about a storey and a half to gravel below.
"For most people, this accident ended on Sept 11, 2015. As for me, it is ongoing and will most likely be ongoing for the rest of my life." — Thomas Grace
Flynn Canada pleaded guilty on Monday to a charge under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act of failing to ensure its employees were familiarized with hazards, in connection with Grace's fall.
Judge Jacqueline Brazil accepted a joint submission from Crown and defence lawyers for a $60,000 fine for the contractor, and ordered $10,000 of it to be spent on education for supervisors in the roofing industry.
Brazil explained to Grace and his girlfriend that her sentence wasn't intended as compensation for their pain and suffering.
"What I’ve got to accomplish and what I hope I can accomplish in this sentence is that it stresses the importance of safety in these types of work environments, and that if safety is compromised, there's going to be a significant penalty paid by the company involved," the judge explained.
According to an agreed statement of facts, Flynn Canada was one of two subcontractors working on the Paul Reynolds Centre at the time of the incident. At the end of the workday, the Flynn foreman instructed his workers to tidy up the roof of the building, because the weather forecast was calling for rain and high winds.
"At this time, there was a large rectangular hole in the centre of the roof which was intended as a future point of access," prosecutor Carrie Herman read from the statement of facts. "A pallet had been placed over it as a cover, but it was not secured by nails or screws and it had not been marked in any way."
Grace, on his second day back on the job after a brief period away, assumed the pallet was to be put away and moved it. As he did so, he fell through the hole, hitting the guardrail on the level below and falling another storey, landing on gravel.
Grace told investigators he had not been aware of the hole under the pallet, which was not secured to the roof and did not contain any markings. He hadn't been present earlier in the week when a safety assessment had been conducted, and the safety meeting he attended the morning of the accident hadn't indicated a hazard due to a roof opening.
A risk assessment completed two days earlier had identified the hole as a hazard, and five other workers who were present for the meeting that day had signed the document acknowledging it.
The statement of facts pointed to a section of the safety manual of EllisDon, the contractor that had employed Flynn Canada, which said any hole larger than 4 inches square must be covered by plywood, secured with nails or screws and marked by the subcontractor that had made the hole. There was some dispute as to whether that had been done and later removed, or never done at all, and whether or not there had been orange pylons marking the site of the hole.
In making his submissions to the court, defence lawyer David Eaton pointed out Flynn Canada had made a mistake, but had not lapsed in its safety protocols in an effort to make a profit, pointing out Grace had not been present when the hole was acknowledged in safety talks. Eaton said Grace had shared the story of his fall for a video produced by the company and shown to employees nationwide as part of safety training.
"The message has gone far beyond here today," Eaton said.
Before Brazil handed down her sentence Tuesday, Grace and his girlfriend presented emotional victim impact statements to the court, detailing how the accident had affected them.
"This has been a very long and painful road to walk. However, I am very glad to finally see the end of the road so I can get on another one," Grace said. "For most people, this accident ended on Sept 11, 2015. As for me, it is ongoing and will most likely be ongoing for the rest of my life."
Grace, who is unable to work due to the lasting effects of his injuries, spoke of the continuous pain he feels in his neck, back and hip due to the multiple fractures in his vertebrae he received when he fell. He said he can no longer go for walks with his girlfriend or shovel snow or do many other things he once loved.
"I find cooking hard, and I like to cook," he said. "Peeling the vegetables for Sunday dinner is always a chore, when it was a pleasure before."
Grace also spoke of his head injury, which left him with bleeding on the brain and a 20-centimetre scar, which he described as constantly itchy.
"It is a big fine, and I'm glad that some of it is going to towards training, because obviously some training needs to be done in the roofing industry." — Grace
He said he is too nervous to climb up a ladder, let alone onto a roof, and has many sleepless nights due to pain.
"I used to be up every morning by 5 a.m.," he said. "Now I'm lucky if I get to sleep by then."
After court, Grace spoke to reporters, and said he was pleased with the fine.
"It is a big fine, and I'm glad that some of it is going to towards training, because obviously some training needs to be done in the roofing industry," he said.
Grace said he'd like to see some changes with the province's Occupational Health and Safety division and how it conducts investigations. He'd also like to see some recourse for victims of workplace accidents, since an injured worker can't sue an employer if they receive provincial workers compensation benefits, unless they were injured in an incident involving a motor vehicle.
"I think if a company is found guilty of negligence, we should have the right to sue them," Grace said. "This big fine, some of that money should go towards the victims."