(Canadian OH&S News) — An absence of warning signs on a St. John’s highway caused a car to hit several road workers three years ago, killing one of them, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) has stated in court.
The City of St. John’s and the Department of Transportation and Works are each facing charges under the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act as a result of the incident. RNC Const. Barry Osmond, the lead police investigator, testified in a St. John’s court on Sept. 2 that there had been little indication of people working on the road just before the accident.
“There was nothing there warning people that they should look for workers on the road or that they should reduce their speed,” Const. Osmond told COHSN. “And it was my opinion when I was investigating that that was a significant factor that led into the event itself.”
He added that only three of the nine workers at the site had been wearing high-visibility gear at the time, including one of the struck workers.
On July 5, 2011, a group of workers from the city, the transportation department and Irving Oil Commercial GP assembled on the Outer Ring Road, part of the Trans-Canada Highway, to inspect the pavement for premature erosion. At about 1:00 p.m., an SUV was moving eastbound on the road behind several other cars when the vehicles ahead suddenly decelerated. The driver of the SUV swerved into another lane to avoid a rear-end collision, causing him to lose control of the car and slam into three road workers (COHSN, July 11, 2011).
One victim, a department employee in his 50s, was pronounced dead at the scene; the other two, a city employee and an Irving Oil worker, sustained serious injuries.
On July 4, 2013, following a separate investigation by oh&s authorities, Service NL announced that the department and the city were facing seven charges each of violations of the act, while Irving Oil was facing six counts.
Const. Osmond testified that the only warning to oncoming traffic at the worksite had been a small amber light on the roof of one department vehicle. “They didn’t post any signage prior to where their cars were parked,” he said.
According to another source, who has asked not to be identified, two other vehicles were parked at the site, but evidence given in court has been contradictory as to whether the other vehicles had active hazard lights or indicators.
The SUV driver, an inexperienced young driver who had been licenced for only three months at the time, is not facing any charges. Const. Osmond did not feel that the driver was at fault in the accident.
“He wasn’t the only motorist that was driving down the road that didn’t really know what was going on,” he explained. “There wasn’t any evidence of excessive speed. There was no evidence that he was following too closely. We didn’t have any evidence of any distractions, other than the normal distractions that anybody would have.”
In addition, Const. Osmond added, other factors were at play. “It was just starting to rain, so the road was starting to become wet. He applied the brakes quickly because traffic ahead of him had done the same. People were coming up on these vehicles stopped on the road, and for some reason, somebody decelerated abruptly, and it kind of caused a chain reaction back through traffic.”
The typical traffic volume on the Outer Ring Road is approximately 21,000 vehicles per day, Const. Osmond estimated.