City of Iqaluit fined $69,000 after garbage truck crushes worker
“We have a high degree of carelessness, and we have a supervision failure on the part of the City”
The City of Iqaluit and three of its employees will pay thousands of dollars in fines after pleading guilty March 22 to breaches of Nunavut’s Safety Act that nearly killed a city worker almost two years ago.
The injured worker, James Dorrington, sat in the Nunavut Court of Justice as the guilty pleas were read, telling senior judge Neil Sharkey in his victim impact statement that “my life changed forever as a result of my accident.”
Following the recommendations of lawyers who reached the plea deal, Sharkey imposed a $69,000 fine on the City, including a 15-per-cent victim surcharge.
That money will be paid to the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission, for a fund intended for additional safety training in Iqaluit and Nunavut.
The co-accused City employees, including former public works superintendent Joseph Brown, now-retired supervisor Keith Baines, and former truck driver Ben Kovic Jr., will also be fined $3,450, $2,300 and $1,150 respectively.
Dorrington was crushed underneath a City of Iqaluit garbage truck that began driving after he climbed underneath it to remove a piece of plastic stuck in the vehicle’s drive shaft on April 18, 2016 at the City’s landfill site.
Dorrington suffered a number of life-threatening injuries as a result of the accident, including a crushed pelvis, bladder, diaphragm, a broken right femur and ribs, and a crushed testicle that was later removed.
“I had to learn how to walk again,” Dorrington told Sharkey.
That included months of physiotherapy in Ottawa, as well as ongoing emotional counseling, which he still attends.
According to a statement of facts submitted in court, the City of Iqaluit, along with Brown and Baines, failed to provide any formal training on health and safety, including “lockout” procedures for broken heavy machinery, which could have prevented the accident.
Kovic Jr.’s liability stems from operating the truck that drove over Dorrington.
“No penalty is going to make right what happened to [Dorrington],” Sharkey said.
He also noting that he expects some members of the public to be critical of the relatively small fines when comparing them to the severity of Dorrington’s injuries.
“What we have here is not criminal negligence,” Sharkey said.
“We have a high degree of carelessness, and we have a supervision failure on the part of the City and the primary blame is there, as the City admits.”
That observation appears to be at odds with an earlier attempt by the City to enter its pleas last year, when the judge at the time, Paul Bychok, said he questioned the size of the proposed fines before adjourning the case until March.
“I’ll be very frank, given the nature of this extremely serious offence, I’m somewhat taken aback by the proposed penalties which the lawyers are proposing to this court,” Bychok told lawyers in court on Dec. 6, 2017.
Sharkey instead credited the City with an “extensive and impressive” revision of its safety shortcomings since the accident, which, according to lawyers, resulted in over $220,000 spent on evaluation, assessment, training, and maintenance of a new health and safety protocol.
The City also created a new management position to oversee health, safety and risk management, and now operates at a safety threshold higher than is currently required by safety legislation, the city’s lawyer, Teresa Haykowsky, told the court.
When asked if a similar accident would happen again under the current safety protocols, Brown told Sharkey, “[it’s] not going to happen.”
“A culture of complacency has been replaced by a culture of adherence to safety,” Sharkey noted.
Sharkey stressed that any fine is not as important as action and said that any court-imposed fines under the Safety Act are meant to pressure organizations to act, which in this case has already happened.
“The City has stepped up to do what they got to do,” he said.
Sharkey applauded Dorrington for the recovery of his mobility and recommended the City of Iqaluit honour his request for a lifetime membership at the City’s Aquatic Centre.
The City of Iqaluit’s acting-chief administrative officer, Amy Elgersma, agreed to that request while in the courtroom.
“Thank goodness you’re walking, that your kids see you walking,” Sharkey told Dorrington.
“You are an inspiration to all of us, in terms of what can be done with the human spirit.”