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Sudbury firm Teranorth fined $125K over 2017 death of worker

Victim was driving a water truck they hadn't been trained to safely operate
Court gavel
Sudbury-based Teranorth Construction and Engineering has been fined $125,000 in connection with a workplace fatality in October 2017 near Elliot Lake. (via Shutterstock)

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has fined Sudbury-based Teranorth Construction and Engineering $125,000 in connection with a workplace fatality in October 2017 near Elliot Lake.

In a Nov. 20 news release, the ministry said the death took place Oct. 13 that year, when the driver of a water truck that was rolling downhill jumped from the vehicle and died from their injuries.

The company pleaded guilty on Nov. 18, and Justice of the Peace Joseph A. Guitard imposed the fine. Crown Counsel was Wes Wilson.

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.

Teranorth, a company that does highway construction, municipal infrastructure and site development, had completed a culvert and bridge rehabilitation project north of Elliot Lake on Highway 639 a day before the worker was killed.

“A water truck unit and a fuel truck unit, both with manual transmission, needed to be taken back to Sudbury,” the ministry said in a news release. “The driver selected for the task had a Class DZ licence. At the time, the worker was employed by Teranorth as a technician, and operating fuel or water trucks was not part of the worker's regular duties.”

The worker drove the fuel truck back to Sudbury on Oct. 11, and was asked to go back to Elliot Lake to pick up the water truck. They arrived at the site on Highway 639 and completed the daily trip inspection report for the water truck.

“The daily trip inspection report is a standard vehicle booklet that is used for multiple pieces of equipment and vehicles at Teranorth,” the release said. “The daily inspection of truck, tractors and trailers is guided by a checklist that is not specific to a particular type of truck, tractor or trailer.”

Included on the checklist is the hydraulic brake system, which must be working properly for the water truck to be driven safely.

“(The checklist) does not specify how to inspect the hydraulic brake system,” the release said. “The inspection report identifies it as a major defect when the brake boost is not operative, requiring the driver not to drive the vehicle.”

The water truck was a six-speed-plus-manual transmission cube-style truck equipped with a braking power assist system called a Hydro-Max Booster. A Hydro-Max Booster works by utilizing the hydraulic power steering pump to assist the driver by reducing the driver-applied force required at the brake pedal. The system has an electrically powered backup pump which starts automatically in the event of a malfunction in the power steering pump or loss of engine power.

“Driving a vehicle without an operating electrical backup pump could result in loss of braking ability if the primary power source is lost,” the release said. “The water truck's lights and the lug nuts on the tires were checked; the backup booster was not tested … (And) the gears in the water truck were closer together than the gears in the fuel truck that the worker had driven two days earlier.”

Problems emerged about 1.5 kilometres from the work site, when the the worker took the truck around a corner and approached a big hill. The hill stretched a long way and required downshifting through multiple gears in order to gain momentum to climb the hill.

“A passerby was travelling from the opposite direction, northbound on Highway 639,” the release said. “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 water truck's driver was found unresponsive, transported to Elliot Lake Hospital and was pronounced dead from injuries suffered in the fall.”

A Ministry of Labour engineer inspected the Hydro-Max braking assist system and concluded that the electric backup 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 engineer concluded that the failed electric motor would have been detected if the operator's manual, which explains how to test the electric backup, had been followed,” the release said. “No one had instructed the driver on how to test the functionality of the backup booster; 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.”

Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act says 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 Hydro-Max Booster backup braking system as part of the daily vehicle inspection,” the release said.

Teranorth has one previous conviction. In 2013, they were found liable for a fatality that took place in 2011, when a worker was killed when the elevated work platform the worker was standing on overturned. The company was fined $115,000 in that incident.

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