Jury, coroner make recommendations at James Baker inquest

The jury at a coroner's inquest into the workplace drowning of James "Jimmy" Baker made two recommendations after deliberating for an hour Tuesday.

'It shouldn't have happened to get these changes,' says Baker's daughter

A picture of the gravel pit with the bulldozer partially lifted from the water was shown at the inquest. (CBC)

The jury at a coroner's inquest into the workplace drowning of James "Jimmy" Baker made two recommendations after deliberating for an hour Tuesday. 

While the three men and two women found that Baker's death was accidental, they did recommend there be dedicated supervision on each site that is separated by one kilometre and that it should be done by a foreman or safety coordinator.

They also recommended that WorkSafeNB should oversee the start up of any construction site, gravel pits and quarries, and every two months have an inspection of all safety and training records of employees for compliance.

James Baker was 58 at the time of his death. (Catherine Harrop/Twitter)

Baker, 58, died Oct. 27, 2014 from injuries he sustained while working for Caldwell and Ross Limited, a Fredericton-based construction company, at a gravel pit in Caraquet, N.B. 

The company was working on the Route 11 bypass project and the inquest heard the project was coming to an end.

With no road work to do that day, Baker was tasked with getting water out of a privately owned gravel pit that had been used for the project by various companies.

He was working alone in the pit when the bulldozer he was operating overturned, trapping him inside. No one knows how long he was there before being found by Peggy McLaughlin, the onsite safety and communications supervisor for Caldwell and Ross. 

The two recommendations came after a day and half-long inquest into Baker's death that was held in Woodstock, N.B.

WorkSafeNB showed a picture during the inquest of the accident site showing no berms around the pit. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)
 

2 more recommendations

Chief coroner Gregory Forestell also made two recommendations of his own: that WorkSafeNB consider changes to the regulations on working near water to require the daily posting of water depths in a prominent location on the site.

An excavator was used to lift the bulldozer James Baker had been operating out of the water. An RCMP officer broke the window to search inside. (Catherine Harrop/Twitter)

His second recommendation was that WorkSafeNB consider changes to the regulations to require a joint health and safety committee regardless of the number of employees, when there are two or more employers working on a construction site.

"It's an awful price to pay," said Heather Baker, one of Baker's six children. "It shouldn't have happened to get these changes." 

On Tuesday, the details about who had heard concerns about the water accumulating in the  gravel pit and who was responsible for draining the water before the accident were revealed. 

Water level a concern

The inquest heard from WorkSafeNB's assistant director of compliance, Eric Brideau that the owner of the pit, Dion Landry Excavation, raised concerns about the water in the gravel pit a month before the drowning to St. Isidore Ashphalte Ltee. 

"As far as I know, Caldwell and Ross were not aware of the conversation between the pit owner and St. Isidore," said Brideau.

WorkSafeNB showed the conclusions of their investigation into James Baker's drowning death. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

The inquest heard there was an ATV trail through the pit and the owner was concerned that an ATV rider would just drive into the water at night.

Caldwell and Ross owner, Paul DeMerchant told the jury Baker had worked for his company seasonally for three years and would have had safety orientation upon his return to work in 2014. 

"The cause of the accident, we don't really know. Maybe we'll never know that," he said.  

"We never want to see something like this happen to a family. It happened to our co-workers and affected us all."

DeMerchant said the company made many changes to its operations around water after the accident. 

'He's not here'

Baker's widow, Pam Baker testified her husband was her best friend who told her his concerns about working in the pit. 

"He just said he wasn't looking forward to that last job. He thought they could finish up that pit that week...he then would have been laid off."

Pam Baker said the last time she heard from her husband was a text he sent her at 12:30 p.m. telling her he'd forgotten his wallet. She told CBC News she was not informed of his death until 8 p.m. that night. 

As she expressed her frustration, the widow said she couldn't believe no one in the company had heard about the concerns with the water-filled gravel pit. 

"Nobody knows what happened, but it's all speculation. But none of you can prove it. And he's not here to defend himself," Pam Baker said. 

Several of James Baker's family members attended the inquest, including his widow, Pam Baker, far left. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Charges were laid after the WorkSafeNB investigation was concluded against Caldwell and Ross for not ensuring berms were in place.

St. Isidore Ashphalte Ltee. and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure were charged with failing to address problems with the water when they were told about it.

Caldwell and Ross pleaded guilty and was fined $63,250; St. Isidore Ashphalte Ltee was fined $27,000 after pleading guilty and DTI was found not guilty. 

With files from Catherine Harrop