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Contractor pleads guilty in St. John's community centre construction accident

Flynn Canada Ltd. has pleaded guilty to a charge under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act related to injuries sustained by employee Thomas Grace. Grace was working on the Paul Reynolds Centre in Wedgewood Park in 2015 when he fell through this hole in the roof to the gravel below.
Flynn Canada Ltd. has pleaded guilty to a charge under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act related to injuries sustained by employee Thomas Grace. Grace was working on the Paul Reynolds Centre in Wedgewood Park in 2015 when he fell through this hole in the roof to the gravel below. - Contributed

Victim and his wife will present impact statements in court on Tuesday

More than three years after the workplace accident that saw him fall through a hole in the roof of the Paul Reynolds Centre in St. John's, Thomas Grace sat in a courtroom Monday with a thin scar visible on his scalp, through his hair.

That cut — a 20-centimetre laceration that required staples — was one of a number of serious injuries Grace received Sept. 11, 2015, while working on recreation centre as an employee of Flynn Canada Ltd. Among his others were seven fractured vertebrae, a broken rib, a number of complex pelvic fractures, and bleeding on his brain.

Flynn Canada pleaded guilty Monday to a charge of failing to ensure its workers are familiarized with hazards in connection with Grace's injuries. As a result of a plea deal, the Crown conditionally withdrew two other charges. All three were charges for offenses under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act.

According to an agreed statement of facts read in court by prosecutor Carrie Herman, Flynn Canada was one of two subcontractors working on the Paul Reynolds Centre, a recreation facility in Wedgewood Park at the time of the incident. At the end of the day, the Flynn foreman instructed his workers to tidy up the roof of the building, since the 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," 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 to gravel.

Crewmembers called 911 and the Occupational Health and Safety division of Service NL issued a stop-work order, then began an investigation.

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 his 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.

"What remains certain is that several Flynn crewmembers were aware of this opening in the roof and were aware that it was not secured safely," she said. "The foreman on Sept. 11, 2015 had a responsibility to inform his crewmembers of the hazard and failed to do so. The result was a life-threatening injury to Mr. Grace that could have been prevented if proper safety measures had been implemented."

The case will be back in provincial court in St. John's Tuesday morning, when Grace and his wife are expected to present victim impact statements.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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