SPECIAL REPORT: LCV spotter held personally responsible in death of co-worker
January 18, 2012
CALGARY, Alta. -- The province of Alberta is hoping fines assessed to a trucking company and employee after a tragic accident can provide learning experiences that help ensure such incidents don't happen again.
CALGARY, Alta. — The province of Alberta is hoping fines assessed to a trucking company and employee after a tragic accident can provide learning experiences that help ensure such incidents don’t happen again.
The accident in question happened at Volker Stevin Contracting’s Calgary yard in August of 2008, and saw 20-year-old James Rintoul crushed under the wheels of a long combination vehicle (LCV) trailer he was helping a driver back up. The company involved, Denel Trucking, and employee Keith Hargrave were fined $286,500 and $10,000, respectively, after both pleaded guilty under the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Denel was ordered to pay $144,000 to the Job Safety Skills Society, $109,000 of which would be allocated for the JobSafe Program, while $35,000 was earmarked to establish a scholarship program in honour of the deceased worker. Another $131,000 was earmarked for the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) so it can develop a course in the safe operation of specialized LCVs.
Hargrave also was slapped with a $1,500 “victim surcharge” after pleading guilty to failing to protect his own safety and that of other workers.
According to the Statement of Facts agreed to between the Crown and the company, victim Rintoul was working as a dolly operator, helping move a tractor, double gooseneck frame and an independently-steered dolly into the Volker Stevin wash bay. He was steering the dolly while walking alongside. Hargrave served as a spotter and was initially on the driver’s side in front of the truck, watching for obstructions. When the driver turned the transport to align it with the bay, Hargrave moved over to the passenger side and lost sight of, and communication with, the victim, who became trapped when his foot got caught under the dolly’s rear wheels.
Denel Trucking admitted it had failed “to identify the hazards associated with the manual steering of a moving dolly; failing to provide Mr. Rintoul with the alternatives to avoid manually steering the moving dolly while walking alongside it, instead permitting him to be in the range of the moving dolly and its wheels; and failing to ensure the workers used the available two-way communication devices (radios) to assist in maintaining communication while steering the dolly.” As for Hargrave, the Statement says he failed to “take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of Mr. Rintoul when he left his spotting position” as well as failing to “maintain any sight of, or contact with, Mr. Rintoul.”
“Essentially,” says Barrie Harrison, spokesman for the Occupational Health and Safety section of Alberta Human Services, “what they’re saying is they failed to identify hazards associated with the manual steering of a moving dolly that forced (the victim) to walk alongside it while it was moving, instead of having some better mechanisms in place.”
Harrison says the civil charges, laid under the OHS Act, also carried the potential for a prison term though the courts have yet to impose such a penalty. One thing that made this particular case stand out, Harrison says, was that “It is rare, though not unheard of, to have an individual charged as well. In this case, there was obviously reason enough to believe that an individual had significant responsibility and that’s why (he) was convicted as well.”
OHS brought the charges after conducting its own investigation, Harrison says.
“We then share our findings with the Crown prosecutors, who review the file and determine whether they believe there’s a reasonable likelihood of conviction and that it’s in the best interests of Albertans to lay the charges,” he explains.
Cases such as this one, Harrison says, are typically argued in front of a judge alone, and “In this case the company entered a guilty plea,” which made the prosecution more straightforward. “Sometimes the companies just recognize that they are indeed at fault,” Harrison says.
In this particular case, discussions about “creative sentencing” led to the decision to send a portion of the penalty to the Job Safety Skills Society and the AMTA instead of merely to the government’s general revenues.
“What we’re seeing more and more of is that Section 41.1 (of the OHS Act) allows that some of the penalty can go…to groups that somehow have a link to education or training that can help prevent these sorts of incidents from happening again,” Harrison says. Hargraves’ $10,000 fine does go straight to the government, however, while the $1,500 victim surcharge – which Harrison says is a standard percentage – “Goes to a fund set up for victims to access when they require it.”
A major fine such as the one under discussion here may seem like a heckuva chunk of change for a trucking company struggling to compete and remain profitable in an uncertain and highly competitive market environment, but Harrison says such things are taken into consideration when fines are assessed.
“What you don’t want is a penalty so severe that the company cannot pay it and declares bankruptcy or has to go under,” he notes. “That’s not in the best interest of anybody, including the people who still work for the company.”
He admits there’ve been cases where companies have declared bankruptcy and therefore couldn’t follow through with the assessed penalty assessed, “But that is few and far between. The Crown prosecutors do the due diligence to hopefully avoid that from happening.”
The idea, he says, is that “You want it to sting, but it serves no purpose to have a fine hefty enough that they can’t pay it and other people lose their jobs.”
As for the AMTA’s portion, executive director Don Wilson welcomes the money, though he says they don’t yet know exactly to what use it’ll be earmarked.
“We put in a proposal,” he says, “but other than the announcement from OHS that the funding would be coming, we haven’t had any more contact with them, nor has the money made it to the AMTA. I really thought we would’ve heard some direction from them, but it hasn’t happened yet.”
Wilson says the organization will probably use the funds to expand its existing LCV program and “design it around specialized equipment like steerable dollies on trailers and the like.”
The incident also gives the AMTA a chance to help get some messages out to the industry. “When they actually went after that individual for $10,000 personally,” Wilson says, “that should say a lot, and I think we need to get the message out that you need to take the role of spotter extremely seriously, that you’d better be on the ball and doing what’s expected of you because there are liabilities. I think some people take that pretty lightly.”
If you’re a spotter, he says, “You’d better assume all the responsibilities that go along with it. I don’t think that’s communicated a lot and we’re going to work on that to bring that out to folks.”
This particular case doesn’t mark the first time the province has approached the AMTA in such a situation.
“They did one of these a few years ago, where we got $65,000 to develop a loading course,” Wilson says, noting the new course would undoubtedly be offered to employers through the AMTA’s facility. He doesn’t know if the government will make such a course mandatory, but says “They could very well say if you’re operating that kind of equipment you have to have a card or certificate on it.” It could also lead to a situation in which the AMTA trains the trainers: “The company brings in their safety guys and then they take it to their employees.”
However it shakes out, Wilson says, the AMTA already has a handle on it.
“We’re not starting from scratch,” he say
s. “We’ll build on the long combination vehicle course we have, and work in the specialized stuff. We’ll obviously bring in industry folks to help us with the development because they’re the guys who’ll be using it.”
Wilson says that, as with other AMTA offerings, the course would be offered to any Alberta trucking company whether it’s a member of the association or not.
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