Nearly two dozen safety violations against American Iron Metal in two years, inquest hears
Health & Safety American Iron and Metal Coroner's Inquest New Brunswick
By Andrew Bates, Telegraph-Journal
After ‘several incidents’ including two workplace fatalities, American Iron & Metal (AIM) was being inspected monthly by WorkSafeNB and has incurred 22 violation orders in the last two years, a coroner’s inquest heard.
The coroner’s inquest into the death of truck driver Bruce Lagace concluded Tuesday, with the jury ruling that his death was an accident. Lagace, a 48-year-old employee of Deschenes Drilling, died Nov. 24, 2021 of blunt force injuries to the head, neck and abdomen, the jury ruled, which were sustained while his truck was being unloaded at the scrapyard.
The inquest had heard Tuesday that an excavator operator was sweeping Lagace’s truck of debris after unloading it onto the ground. Surveillance video shows that at 9:05 a.m. on the day of the incident, Lagace climbed into the back of the tractor trailer before the excavator continued sweeping. Lagace was found buried in a pile of debris and was taken to the hospital.
On Wednesday, Matt Greer, emergency physician at Saint John Regional Hospital, testified that Lagace’s injuries were determined non-survivable and he was pronounced dead at 10:07 a.m., with doctors attempting unsuccessfully to restart his heart by decompressing Legace’s chest.
Anatomical pathologist Dr. Ather Naseemuddin, who performed the autopsy, testified that all of Lagace’s ribs were broken in two places, had lacerated the lungs and that the spinal cord had been severed. He said the injuries were “incompatible with life” and ruled the cause of death as multiple blunt force injuries to the head, chest and abdomen. Naseemuddin said there were no drugs in his system to suggest impairment.
Seven recommendations from jurors
The jurors produced seven recommendations, including that the driver should stay in a safe location away from the vehicle during unloading the offloading process until instructed to return, a clear procedure for communicating transfers of duty at the scrapyard, punitive measures for safety infractions and to have safety measures reviewed by a third party.
Reginal coroner Michael Johnston gave his condolences to Lagace’s family, and told Brunswick News that an immediate family member was contacted in preparation for the inquest.
“However, they decided that they would not attend because it would be too difficult to relive the situation,” he said.
AIM is facing trial in March on four Occupational Health and Safety Act charges related to a second death at the scrapyard, with Darrell Richards, 60, dying July 1, 2022. Operations at the AIM facility have been suspended during an investigation of a massive fire at the site Sept. 14.
Visits every month
On Tuesday, WorkSafeNB investigation manager Michel Cyr returned to the stand Wednesday to detail his response to the investigation findings. He said that because AIM was not the employer and WorkSafe’s rules for contractors apply to construction sites, the only charge they could bring under the Occupational Health & Safety Act was, as an owner, having breached a general duty to ensure the safety of those onsite. That was sent to the Crown prosecution office, who determined there was no reasonable prospect of prosecution, he testified.
With 15,000 workplaces, Cyr said that they can’t monitor compliance at each one, but they occasionally send an inspector annually to certain sites. Cyr said that following “several incidents” related to AIM, they developed a compliance plan with the company and have been spending an inspector each month. He said inspectors have made 11 orders for violation of OSHA or its regulations in each of 2022 and 2023, none of which have been escalated to his level due to lack of appropriate response.
Cyr said that WorkSafeNB has offered to consult with AIM ten times to provide voluntary consultation on safety procedures, and as of Wednesday AIM have not accepted.
He said that WorkSafeNB found no violations pertaining to Deschenes Drilling. Owner Gilles Deschenes testified by video that he had not handled the site safety plan for AIM, and that Lagace, who had 12 to 15 years of trucking experience, was a “good employee” and “an entrepreneur that could run his own thing.
Deschenes said they didn’t restart runs to AIM, in part because of lack of material, but is in talks with the company to begin hauling scrap again.
Before Cyr’s testimony, Michael Cormier, vice president for AIM Recycling East, testified that since 2021, they’d been “constantly improving.” The one-sheet site safety plan has been replaced by a mandatory contractor orientation, and the number of safety advisors on site has increased from two to four, he said. The safety team’s manager was now on site, he said, after previously being led by a manager in Hamilton, Ont.
He said that drivers are now required to be in their truck, and that operation stops if they get out of their cabs. Yard inspectors are now required to be five feet from the truck, so they can be line-of-sight to the driver and the operator, he said.
When asked by the jury if any changes had been made to the two-way radio system which allows communication between yard inspectors and the operator but not the driver, Cormier said they had been considering upgrades, but not to add the driver.
On Tuesday, yard inspector Mike Lacelle said he had left Lagace’s truck with another inspector to go receive additional trucks. The excavator operator, Justin Richards, said it was that inspector who later told him to take another pass at the interior of the truck, at which point he saw Lagace in the debris pile at 9:12 a.m.
Cormier said inspectors occasionally trade off while a load is underway, but that “we do not unload a vehicle without an inspector.”
Before the jury began deliberations, Cyr went through the details of WorkSafeNB’s investigation one more time, including playing the three-minute video in which Lagace can be seen entering the cab at 9:05 a.m. One red truck can be seen approaching and passing the unloading site, with another white truck approached but turned and drove away. Crown prosecutor Chris Titus, acting as the coroner’s lawyer, asked if any white van or inspector could be seen, with Cyr saying that in the video, there was “no van, no inspector around.”
Cyr said he had taken statements suggesting yard inspectors may be handling four or five trucks at once. When asked by a juror if they could hear the statement, coroner’s lawyer Chris Titus said they wouldn’t be able to, but that they could consider it among the other testimony they’d heard.