JD Irving (JDI) has been issued a penalty of $89,500 after pleading guilty to being responsible for a workplace death in June 2016 at its sawmill in Valley.
In a joint recommendation made in provincial court in Truro Tuesday, the penalty was broken down as a fine of $34,500 and a $55,000 college bursary to be established in the name of Chad Smith.
Smith, 28, died on June 27, 2016 after being struck by a front-end loader while crossing a narrow pedestrian/vehicle bridge separating the main mill from other operations on the property.
In accepting the joint recommendation, Judge Al Bégin made it clear the full responsibility for the fatal tragedy falls to the Irving company for failing to ensure its lift trucks were operated under safe standards laid out within Nova Scotia’s Occupational health and Safey Act.
“Neither Chad nor (loader operator) Robert Sellers were at fault,” Bégin said.
In delivering his sentence Bégin also acknowledged victim impact statements that spoke of the loss to Smith’s family as well as to Sellers, who has been unable to work since the accident.
“No one ever expects that when their loved one goes off to work that they will never speak to them again,” Bégin said. “That they’ll never be able to be proud of his accomplishments, that they’ll never be able to have his support as they go through life’s struggles without him, that they’ll never be able to grow old with him, that they’ll never be able to see him walk his daughter down the aisle,” Bégin said.
“The list of nevers is long and the pain for all the victims is real. Nothing that I do or say today will bring back Chad. And nothing will make all those nevers go away.”
He also acknowledged that Sellers “… has suffered immeasurably because of this incident.”
In an agreed statement of facts presented to the court, Crown attorney Alex Keaveny said Smith had arrived a bit late for his evening shift at the mill after getting caught up in traffic. After clocking in at the main mill he was rushing on foot to his work site in the planer mill when he was struck by the loader.
Court heard Sellers was transporting a load of green lumber with the fork lift when he unknowingly struck Smith on the “narrow” bridge. Sellers was not even aware that anything had happened until he had dropped his load and was heading back across the bridge.
“Mr. Sellers did not see Mr. Smith,” Keaveny said. Nor were his operating skills brought into question.
But with approximately 200 loader trips across the bridge per every 10-hour shift, plus trucks and other vehicle traffic, the lack of mirrors, stops signs, lights or other safety issues certainly were attributing factors, Keaveny said.
“At the time of the incident, the yard, including the bridge, did not have any barriers to separate pedestrians and lift trucks at congested areas, or any areas from the gate to the main sawmill, and to the boiler plant, kilns, planer mill and planer yard,” he said.
And while the company had set out various routes for pedestrians to take, Keaveny added, “some of these routes did not avoid lift truck traffic.”
Immediately following the incident, however, the company undertook a comprehensive review of its site walk zone policy and ultimately spent in excess of $100,000 on additional safety training and site improvements that included a new pedestrian-only bridge, stop signs on the vehicle bridge and new barriers to separate vehicle traffic and pedestrians. The site walk zone is now also clearly marked with signs.
JDI lawyer Mick Ryan said the company also paid out $16,671 in compensation, which combined with the site improvements led to a total spending of $137,853, prior to the $34,500 fine and the $55,000 bursary the company is required to set up through the Nova Scotia Community College.
Keaveny said the overall penalty is the fourth highest received by a company for a workplace fatality in the past 20 years.
One of those was issued to JDI for the 1998 death of Justin Grady following a workplace incident at Kent Building Supplies in Halifax. The company at that time was fined $115,000.
But as stated by Bégin and those who provided victim impact statements, no monetary penalty will ever make up for the loss of Smith to his family, nor to Sellers who also continues to suffer.
“Since Chad’s death the emotional trauma is difficult to describe,” Smith’s aunt Elaine Leighton read to the court, on behalf of his parent’s Kevin and Nancy Smith. “There are many feelings that change from one minute to the next. Writing this statement the tears fall quickly. Our lives are at a standstill. Our lives stopped moving forward since we got the call that Chad was gone.”
Story has been updated to correct errors in content.