Teen's preventable death 'shamed' Shercom Industries into making safety fixes, says judge

"Safety concerns were considered secondary to profit" at the Saskatoon company, a provincial court judge has found.

Judge finds 'safety concerns were considered secondary to profit' at Saskatoon company

Cade Sprackman, 18, of Melfort and Hudson Bay, Sask., had only worked at Shercom Industries for three weeks when he died on the job. (Facebook)

Just 10 days before Cade Sprackman died after getting caught in a shredder at Shercom Industries' tire recycling plant north of Saskatoon, another worker was injured at the same workstation.

But the company did not replace the jam-prone shredder, or add an emergency stop cable, until after the January 2015 death of the recent high school graduate and film school hopeful, according to a legal ruling released Thursday.

"It is unfortunate, to say the least, that these dangers were not properly addressed before a death shamed the company into action," said Saskatchewan provincial court Judge Marilyn Gray, before fining the company $420,000.

Safety 'secondary to profit': judge

Gray's 18-page decision paints Shercom Industries as a company that paid only "superficial" attention to workplace safety, despite injuries at the Corman Industrial Park site and complaints from employees.

It was a place, said Gray, where "safety concerns were considered secondary to profit."

Shercom's tire recycling plant, where Sprackman died in January 2015, is located north of Saskatoon. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

When Sprackman — on the job for only three weeks — was caught in the machine with no emergency stop switch, he was forced to call 911. He screamed for help more than 24 times during his first call. 

By the time emergency crews arrived, he was already dead.

When Shercom eventually installed emergency stop switches at the site of Sprackman's death and other stations, the cost per station was $2,550. The new shredder cost $550,000. Heavy-duty guards, including chain link fencing, were also installed.

From left to right, outside the courthouse Thursday: Sprackman family friend Lucille Lavoie Frehlich and Sprackman's parents Michelle and Jerry. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"That's just very depressing," said Sprackman's father Jerry of the post-death fix.

"That's just a true view that this accident could have been prevented when there was someone else that got hurt just mere days before. That should be a red flag in your system that you have to do something. Cade would be here today if they had done something."

Gray said that while Shercom did respond to notices of contravention about workplace safety issues, the company's president, Shane Olson, wanted safety features to be "'efficient', ensuring that downtime was minimal and productivity "optimal."

Shercom made 'significant' changes to its safety practices, but only after Sprackman's death, said a judge. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

After Sprackman's death, the judge said machinery and safety features were installed in a "piecemeal fashion, without consultation with safety experts or engineers."

Among those in the courtroom Thursday was Natalya Uchacz of the Heavy Construction Safety Association of Saskatchewan. She helped Shercom receive COR certification, a nationally-recognized, "minimum-standard" for a safety program.  

"Companies really should work towards a more proactive system as opposed to a reactive system, instead of unfortunately waiting for things to happen within the company — really investigating ways right at the very beginning," said Uchacz.

Safety gaps before Sprackman's death

Shercom managers had no occupational health and safety (OHS) training, regular on-site OHS meetings were not held and new hires like Sprackman weren't required to have any specific background or experience, according to Gray.

"No parent needs to go through this, especially for young adults," said Sprackman's mother Michelle.

"They just need that extra supervision, make sure they're safe."

Sprackman with his parents, Jerry and Michelle. (Facebook)

Michelle described her 18-year-old son as artsy and said he was saving up money to go to film school.

"He had just left home," said Michelle outside the courtroom Thursday, her three other younger children waiting nearby.

"He moved to the city. He had big dreams to get into cinema. He wanted to direct. This was a stepping stone to a brighter future."

No plans to sue

Jerry and Michelle Sprackman say they don't plan to sue Shercom, which is still operating, according to defence attorney John Agioritis.

University of Regina associate professor Sean Tucker. (University of Regina)
They received a cheque from the Saskatchewan Workers' Compensation Board after their son's death. The money from the fine will go to the provincial government.

The fine includes a $120,000 surcharge earmarked for government programs "that will help victims of crime but not necessarily the family," said Sean Tucker, a University of Regina associate professor with a specialty in workplace safety.

Shercom's total $420,000 fine is tied with two others in the past eight years for the highest fine ever issued in the province for an occupational health and safety violation, according to the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety. 

Tucker said it could be a precedent-setter.

"I think it draws a line, and I could see other Crown counsel using this decision," he said.

"If it's a bigger company, I think it's going to be a bigger fine in the future."

'A catalyst for change'

Asked if Shercom will appeal Gray's decision, Agioritis said the company still needs to review the decision.

"Events like these can always cause a company to change and this was certainly a catalyst for change for Shercom," said Agioritis.

But for the Sprackman family, money and after-the-fact fixes won't make a difference.

"A fine's not going to do us any good," said Jerry Sprackman.

What he hopes, though, is that Gray's decision "will get some people in Saskatchewan to re-look at their business and make sure that this does not go unheard and Cade's death was not for no reason at all."

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Guy Quenneville

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