AIM pleads guilty in death of New Brunswick worker, $100,000 bursary set up to honour victim
Health & Safety American Iron and Metal Fines New Brunswick
By Andrew Bates, Telegraph-Journal
American Iron & Metal employees in Maine had safety procedures for handling the calender roll that killed Darrell Richards, including using an excavator attachment and a 75-foot safety zone.
But those precautions weren’t communicated to workers in Saint John acting to decommission the device, kept under high levels of pressure, and Richards was on top of it with a circular saw when it ruptured, resulting in fatal injuries.
AIM entered a guilty plea to a single Occupational Health and Safety Act charge of failing to provide information on the hazards of a calender roll dating to June 30, 2022, on Friday in Saint John provincial court.
Crown prosecutor Wes McIntosh and AIM’s lawyer Jessica Bungay are asking for a probation order that includes a condition to pay $100,000 into a workplace-safety focused bursary fund in Richards’ name at NBCC.
“We’re very glad that today has come, that it’s finally over, that AIM has taken accountability and they did not make it go to trial,” Richards’ daughter-in-law Kelsey Bailey told Brunswick News. “Of course nothing can bring Darrell back, but we are glad to have some kind of closure.”
Richards, 60, was fatally injured June 30, 2022, and died July 1.
After a joint investigation by Saint John police and WorkSafeNB, AIM initially pleaded not guilty to four charges and was to face a three-day trial in March.
The other three charges, which included failing to acquaint an employee with any hazard involving handling and disposal of equipment, failing to provide information to ensure an employee’s health and safety and failing to ensure work is competently supervised, are set to be dropped at the time of sentencing.
According to an agreed statement of facts read by McIntosh, AIM had received calender rolls for recycling from a Maine facility. The 33-inch rolls contain 250,000 sheets of cotton denim held under 2,600 tons of pressure, McIntosh said, and can lead to “a powerful release of energy if not decommissioned properly.”
The Maine facility “was aware of the hazard” and had procedures for handling the rolls, including using a cutting torch or shear attachment, with a 75-foot safety zone for anyone not involved, court heard. But they weren’t written procedures, and the Saint John operation wasn’t informed and “incorrectly assessed the risk” posed by the devices.
On June 30, 2022, Richards said he had worked on the rolls and got on top of one with a circular saw, according to McIntosh. When he pierced the device, the material shot upwards with enough force to send sheets of material several feet in the air, and severed his femoral artery, McIntosh said. Despite first aid assistance, he died in hospital, according to the statement of facts.
‘Light up the room’
Richards was a beloved husband and father who could “light up the room” with his smile, according to impact statements from his wife Bessie Collins, aunt Irene Owen and daughter-in-law Vanessa Richards-Stone. Collins, who was married to him for 43 years, said in a statement read by Bailey that he was her support for a host of health issues, including diabetes and cancer.
“No words that I can speak can equal the pain, loss and suffering I have felt in these 582 days since his death,” Collins wrote. “Darrell went to work every day, and AIM failed to keep him safe so he could come home to me. I pray this never happens to another family, and I also pray that he’s waiting in the doorway for me when I come up.”
Collins, who was present on Friday, wrote that she dealt with “agony and heartbreak” closing out his affairs, and that losing “our social butterfly” has impacted her family, including his three sons and his grandchildren.
“When Darrell talked to you, you felt special, whether you were a close loved one or a total stranger. And you were special, to him,” daughter-in-law Jennifer Newman wrote in a statement provided to Brunswick News.
“He was an incredible person, ripped from our lives,” said Richards-Stone, who said he had an “innate ability to make others feel understood” and an infectious laugh.
He was described as being “relentless on safety” and his loss is “impossible to comprehend,” Richards-Stone said.
“I wish he was here to get us through the fight of our lives,” Owen said.
Bailey said it has been an “incredible fight” for everyone who knew him.
“It’s changed everyone’s lives, all the time coming back and forth to court waiting for some sort of answer, ownership from AIM, and we now have it,” she said.
Alternative sentencing provision
McIntosh said the lawyers agreed on an alternative sentencing provision that allows the court to order AIM to pay money to establish a bursary to help provide the next generation of workers with health and safety awareness instead of a fine, which would go into government coffers. The Darrell Edward Richards Bursary would be handed out by NBCC to a student who is a member of a visible minority with a demonstrated commitment to workplace safety, court heard.
“We’re very happy that we can remember Darrell in some way forever,” Bailey told Brunswick News.
McIntosh said AIM’s guilty plea prevented a complex and lengthy trial that could have been traumatic for the family to witness.
Bungay said the company has “acknowledged the seriousness and is deeply regretful,” and that since the incident, AIM has taken measures to improve safety at the facility and cooperated with WorkSafe NB. They are still under a safety order regarding the calender roll while they are looking for a way to dispose of it, she said. She noted examples where other mid-size companies had paid fines from $45,000 to $80,000 in workplace fatality cases.
“Although it can’t can’t go back in time and bring back Mr. Richards, it can take steps to make sure this never happen again,” Bungay said.
Michael Cormier, AIM’s vice-president for eastern Canada, was in attendance and did not address the court. He declined a request for comment.
Another guilty plea
AIM also pleaded guilty to a Dec. 3, 2021, incident where they failed to ensure an employee stayed 3.6 metres away from a power line in Maces Bay. McIntosh said the employee was operating a boom on a truck that was picking up cans of scrap metal and said he was told to stay a minimum of 1 to 1.5 metres from a nearby power line.
He believed he was about metre away from the line when it arced toward the truck, lighting the truck on fire and severing the line, knocking out power for hours but causing no injuries.
The requested sentence in that case was a $7,000 bursary payment into the fund in Richards’ name.
Judge Claude Hache reserved his decision for next Wednesday.