(Canadian OH&S News) — The Oct. 11, 2012 death of a pipelayer in a Burnaby, British Columbia trench is now under review by the RCMP, following a past investigation by the province’s workplace safety and compensation agency, WorkSafeBC.
Twenty-eight-year-old Jeff Caron, an employee of Surrey-based J. Cote & Son Excavating Ltd., was helping to replace sewer lines in a 1.2-metre-deep excavation for the City of Burnaby that day, when a concrete wall cracked in two, fell onto him and pinned him against the bank of the trench. Caron was killed, and a second trench worker, Thomas Richer, was seriously injured in the same incident.
Although news reports in early May stated that a criminal investigation was already underway, John Buis, staff sergeant major with the RCMP’s Burnaby detachment, denied this, telling COHSN that the case was merely at the review stage. “We just got the file,” said Buis. “We’re reviewing it to see if there are any allegations of criminality.”
WorkSafeBC investigated the incident in order to find the cause and eventually released its report last Dec. 12. The report concluded that insufficient training, lack of hazard recognition, poor hazard communication and a weak safety management system had all contributed to the incident. In addition, the foreman of the pipe crew, David Green, had ignored Richer’s warnings that the worksite’s conditions were dangerous, according to the investigation.
“J. Cote’s crew excavated directly adjacent to the concrete wall,” the report noted in its conclusions about the cause of the accident. “The removal of the soil mass in front of the concrete wall caused it to become unstable and fall, by allowing it to move outward and overturn.”
To date, WorkSafeBC has not imposed any administrative penalties for the incident. But the agency did issue six orders to J. Cote, three to the City of Burnaby and two to engineering company Earthbitat Engineering. WorkSafeBC charged that J. Cote had not established a safety program, recognized hazards or addressed the hazards when a worker had reported them.
The city, meanwhile, had failed to provide information about the structure’s hazards and to report possibly hazardous structures in proximity to the trench, while Earthbitat had failed to recognize the dangerous conditions of the structures.
As of a January 2014 WorkSafeBC inspection, all 11 of the orders were still outstanding.
According to a letter that J. Cote’s lawyer, Jonathan Tweedale, sent to CBC News on May 6, the excavation company is in the process of appealing WorkSafeBC’s conclusions. J. Cote claims that it dug the trench as Earthbitat had advised them. “The WorkSafe[BC] findings were premised on a mistaken understanding of the steps taken by our client prior to the Oct. 11, 2012 accident,” Tweedale wrote. “Our client was not responsible for the incident.”
J. Cote is also suing the City of Burnaby for the extra costs and delay following the incident, according to court papers dated last Dec. 18.
Buis said that RCMP criminal investigations of workplace fatalities were generally uncommon in Burnaby. “I haven’t experienced many. I only recall one,” he said. “This is all relatively new to us, as we’re getting this case from another provincial agency to review.
“We’re taking a look at it, and as always, if there are any charges, it’s brought forward to the Crown Counsel for review and approval,” Buis said, adding that it was far too early to speculate on the possible charges or penalties involved.
WorkSafeBC’s report on the incident is viewable online at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1156263-worksafebc-report.html.