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“Inadequate” OHS Investigation

A judge in Newfoundland and Labrador recently described a recent occupational health and safety investigation that followed a fatal accident as “completely inadequate” and dismissed the charges brought against the employer by Service NL. It is unknown what NL OHS officials plan to do to remedy the situation and fix the investigation process.

The incident in question happened in June 2015, in Trepassey, when 20-year-old C.J. Curtis, was working on a roof and plummeted through a skylight to the ground 20 feet below, killing him. According to a police report, no harness was in use at the time of the accident. The worker’s employer, Southern Construction (1981) Ltd. was charged with four occupational health and safety violations, but Judge James Walsh dismissed the charges, noting that the company was “safety conscious” and had a safety plan in place, and he took direct aim at both the RCMP investigation and the investigation conducted by provincial occupational health and safety officials.

The judge noted that the matter “was poorly investigated.” He said there was no evidence that the accident scene had been secured immediately after the accident and had been preserved for the duration of the investigation. He noted that no one took measurements of the various points at the site of the accident; most of the evidence consisted of “rough estimates and speculation.” He also noted that no photos were taken at the scene until more than eight hours after the accident.

In a statement, Judge Walsh said, “This investigation was completely inadequate… The event of June 16, 2015, in which Mr. Curtis lost his life, is tragic. The Crown has, I conclude, conceded that the company had done what it was required to do with regard to his safety.” He added, “Southern Construction presents as a good corporate citizen that is very safety conscious. It has a safety plan in place. It ensured that its workers received proper safety training. It ensured that proper safety equipment for each worker was on site.” Put simply, the sloppiness of the investigation meant Service NL had essentially conceded the case to Southern Construction.

In their defense, Service NL noted the incident occurred at around 8:35 a.m., and their occupational health and safety division was notified at 12:20 p.m., about four hours later. By the time investigators were notified and traveled to the job site, another 3½ hours had passed, at which time “the officers then proceeded to carry out their investigation in accordance with established policies and procedures for such an incident.”

Service NL has promised to conduct a further review of Judge Walsh’s rationale for dismissing the charges and will determine whether procedural changes are necessary for investigations.

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