MONTREAL (Canadian OH&S News)
The Ville de Montreal is to blame for the on-duty death of a rookie firefighter who was killed after his own truck backed up onto him last summer, the latest report from the provincial workplace health and safety caretakers revealed.
In its report, released on Feb. 25, the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST) concluded that the city of Montreal acted in a manner which compromised the health and safety of its workers.
After joining the fire brigade in 2010, 39-year-old Thierry Godfrind was considered rather new to the force. His life ended abruptly in July of 2012, when he and his crew responded to a call at a residence in the St. Laurent borough of Montreal, according to the CSST.
“The vehicle had to back up about 50 metres to position itself as required” because it had overshot the address it was headed towards, explained the CSST’s Dominique David. “Before the vehicle backed up, Mr. Godfrind and two other members of the crew got out of the vehicle to walk to the address. Mr. Godfrind took a tool out of the back lateral compartment of the truck, and had to walk behind the truck while the truck was backing up. So the truck passed over him and Mr. Godfrind was killed.”
The CSST investigation noted that Montreal’s fire services failed to adequately provide safe work methods, adequate training procedures, and supervision. As a result, the city will be fined, but a specific number has yet to be set. The health and safety regulator also made recommendations to the city’s safety codes, which it implemented as part of a new action plan.
“Following the accident, the fire department launched an internal inquiry and developed an action plan,” said Patricia Lowe, a Ville de Montreal spokesperson. “The department’s health and safety division also produced a video for firefighters which features all the required safety checks that must be carried out on trucks before they leave the station — mirrors, flashing lights, sirens.”
She added that directives on back-up maneuvers and positioning of service vehicles were further incorporated into their training practices.
Though being a firefighter comes with inherent occupational risks, this accident could have been avoided.
“I think, however, that it is important to point out two things. One, no amount of money will ever replace a loved one, and two; ultimately, from a legal standpoint, the employer is responsible for the health and safety of my members,” Chris Ross, the vice-president of health and safety at the Montreal Firefighter’s Association pointed out. “When one of my members does something wrong, the employer is quick with discipline, so I think it is only normal that the employer should be held accountable for his responsibilities as well.”
Association pushing for advances in truck safety
Ross added that his team is pushing for the establishment of a joint committee, whose mandate will be to focus on technological advances to fire trucks to enhance safety. As a result, beginning this year, all incoming fire trucks are equipped with a three-camera system that covers the blind spots on both sides of the truck and the rear when backing up.
“Ideally, I think all organizations wish they could attain a zero accident rate, ultimately what is important is that we learn from each one and ensure that they never happen again. The provincial health and safety board found that the training and procedures for the safe backing up of a fire apparatus were vague, if not non-existent,” Ross continued. “Often it’s the most banal actions that we take for granted — this was one of them. I think that with proper procedures and the right equipment, this, and most other accidents could be avoided.”