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Company criminally charged for 2009 B.C. workplace fatality

Russell Hixson
Company criminally charged for 2009 B.C. workplace fatality
PHOTO COURTESY OF MIKE PEARSON - Arlen Fitzpatrick (left) poses next to his brother Samuel Fitzpatrick on a jobsite. Samuel was killed by a falling rock while working on a hydroelectric project at Toba Inlet, B.C. Peter Kiewit Sons, the company in charge of the site, and several of its former employees are now facing criminal negligence charges for the death.

Peter Kiewit Sons ULC, an international construction firm, and two of its former employees have been charged with criminal negligence for the death of a worker.

The charges laid this month stem from the death of Samuel Fitzpatrick who was working as a rock scaler on a run-of-the-river project construction site near Powell River, B.C. in 2009.

The incident was investigated by WorkSafeBC in 2011, resulting in a $250,000 fine for the firm, the highest penalty imposed that year. Investigators determined that Fitzpatrick was fatally struck by a rock estimated to be over 1.5 metres in diameter after the company had allowed work to proceed without clearing loose material uphill.

Prior to the injury, supervisors had frequently documented loose rock hazards during their daily crew meetings, and the day before Fitzpatrick’s death a massive rock had fallen and damaged equipment. Investigators wrote that hazards weren’t properly controlled and crews continued to work in dangerous areas.

Despite unstable material being identified in risk assessment, WorkSafeBC found that the company failed to adequately train workers for the land clearing work, the investigation concluded.

The fine was successfully appealed and reduced to less than $100,000. The appeal tribunal ruled it could not determine if company decisions directly led to the boulder striking the worker.

Despite this, the tribunal did note that the company had “committed high risk violations with reckless disregard.”

The new criminal charges are a rare application of the Westray Bill, enacted in 2004 to provide tools for attributing criminal liability to organizations, including corporations, their representatives and those who direct the work of others.

The act was created following an explosion at Westray Mine in Plymouth, N.S. which killed 26 miners. After the mine’s owners and managers were unsuccessfully prosecuted, the Canadian Labour Congress and others pressured government to amend the criminal code.

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