Sudbury contractor fined $125,000 for death of employee who died when truck brakes failed

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

Teranorth Construction of Sudbury has pleaded guilty and has been fined $125,000 following the 2017 death of an employee.

The court also imposed a 25 per cent victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act. The surcharge is credited to a special provincial government fund to assist victims of crime.

The court heard that on Oct. 13, 2017, a worker was killed after jumping from a truck that was rolling backward down a hill at a work site. The company was working on a culvert and bridge rehabilitation project north of Elliot Lake on Highway 639.

A Teranorth technician picked up a fuel truck at the site and drove it back to Sudbury on Oct. 11. This was not a part of his regular duties. Two days later, the same worker was asked to go back to Elliot Lake to pick up the manual transmission water truck.

He arrived at the site on Highway 639 and conducted the daily trip inspection report, a standard vehicle booklet that is used extensively by Teranorth, court heard.

The water truck, a six-speed-plus-manual transmission cube-style truck was with a braking power assist system called a Hydro-Max Booster, which assists the drive by reducing the amount of force required on the brake pedal. The system has an electrically powered back-up pump, which starts automatically in the event of a malfunction or the power steering pump or loss of engine power.

Before leaving the site, the water truck’s lights and the lug nuts on the tires were checked; however, the back-up booster was not tested, the court report said, also noting that gears in the water truck were closer together than the gears in the fuel truck that the worker had driven two days earlier.

The worker drove the truck around a corner and approached a hill about 1.5 km from the starting location. It was a long hill that required downshifting through multiple gears to gain momentum.

“A passerby was travelling from the opposite direction, northbound on Highway 639,” the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development said in a news release. “The passerby crested the hill and observed the water truck rolling backwards and weaving.

“As the truck cab was passing the middle of the highway, the passerby observed the driver exiting the truck and hitting the ground, rolling a few times before coming to a rest next to the truck. The truck had rolled backwards into the bank and flipped on its left (driver’s) side.”

The driver was found unresponsive, transported to the hospital in Elliot Lake and was pronounced dead from injuries suffered in the fall.

“A Ministry of Labour engineer inspected the braking assist system and concluded the electric back-up pump of the system was not working. It had failed due to the corrosion within the motor that progressed until the rotor shaft of the motor became seized in the bushings of the end plate,” the ministry news release stated.

“The MLO concluded the failed electric motor would have been detected if the operator’s manual, which explains how to test the electric back-up, had been followed.”

The report concluded that nobody had instructed the driver how to test the functionality of the back-up booster and the operator’s manual, which had test instructions, was not available to the driver. No supervisor determined whether the driver was aware of how to do the test.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act states that an employer is guilty of an offence for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the safety of the worker. In this case, the employer failed to provide information and/or instruction to a worker in the operation of a manual transmission vehicle on hilly terrain or on the testing of the back-up braking system.

Teranorth Construction and Engineering Ltd. was convicted in 2013 for a fatality that took place in 2011. A worker was killed when the elevated work platform they were standing on overturned. The company was fined $115,000 in that incident.

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