VANSCOY, Sask (Canadian OH&S News)
A potash surface mine operator in Saskatchewan has pleaded guilty to the province’s maximum fine for an occupational health and safety violation, in connection with a worker fatality two years ago.
On May 11, 2010, Edward Artic, who had worked at Agrium Inc’s Vanscoy site for over 10 years, was inside a hoist well when a component fell from a load being lifted by an overhead crane. The device fell six stories and struck the 59-year-old worker in the head, killing him instantly (COHSN May 24, 2010).
Agrium pleaded guilty on May 28 to failing to provide or maintain a working environment that ensured, as far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of a worker, contrary to Section 12(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, and agreed to the maximum fine of $300,000 plus a $120,000 victim surcharge. Three other charges against Agrium were stayed.
Tamara Harrison, the crown prosecutor assigned to the case, explained that a maximum fine was sought because the incident resulted in a fatality, Agrium had a previous similar conviction — in 2006 a rock fell and a worker received a serious injury — and judges specifically allow prosecutors to look at the fact that because the accused is a large, profitable company, the fine must be high enough to have a deterrent effect.
“We’re happy that the company did the right thing and decided to put an end to it for the family and co-workers and everybody involved,” says Darrin Kruger, president of USW Local 7552, of which Artic was a member.
Agrium’s lawyer says it was important for the company to move forward out of respect for the family, adding there is a good working relationship between Agrium and the family, “who didn’t want to see this worker’s death in vain.”
“The company recognized that anything you can do could be done better. There is always a constellation of factors that contribute to the cause of the accident,” and Agrium was one of those factors, says Michael Tochor of MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman LLP, in Regina.
Since the incident the company has spent $3.6 million on remedial measures at the site, just southwest of Saskatoon, Tochor notes. This includes redesigning and retrofitting the entire hoist well, rewriting and reworking health and safety policies and procedures, providing financial assistance to the family and counselling for workers and constructing a memorial tribute to Artic on the site.
Kruger says it is good the company has taken steps towards eliminating safety hazards, but “we have a very old plant. Forty year old infrastructure doesn’t just change overnight; it takes a lot of planning, capital investment and time to change those.”
Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety recently introduced amendments that would bump the maximum penalty in cases with a serious injury or death from $300,000 to $1.5 million, making them the highest in the country. The amendments would take effect this fall (COHSN, May 21, 2012).