Nfld. & Labrador

Construction companies fined in 2018 fatal fall from St. John's highrise

The employers of a man who died after falling 11 storeys from the Hilton Garden Inn were convicted of multiple workplace safety charges Wednesday.

Christopher Fifield, 26, fell over 30 metres in workplace accident

Chris Fifield, 26, was killed three years ago after falling from a building that was under construction in downtown St. John's. (GoFundMe)

The employers of a 26-year-old man who died after falling nearly a hundred feet to his death on a St. John's construction site have been convicted of several occupational health and safety charges.

Christopher Fifield, a project co-ordinator and field surveyor who worked for Lancor Concrete Contractors, died in 2018 while working on the Hilton Garden Inn building site.

He plummeted 11 storeys to the street below, succumbing to his injuries. 

Lancor and Magna Contracting and Management pleaded guilty in provincial court Wednesday to several charges relating to the failure to ensure a safe workplace, including failure to provide fall protection.

Fifield's foreman, William Squires, also pleaded guilty to failure to meet specific safety duties as a supervisor.

Fifield was summoned into work on May 28, 2018, to help lay concrete slabs on the 11th floor of the hotel, the court learned from an agreed statement of facts.

He'd just started his shift when a foreman told him the crew had installed guardrails around parts of the top floor, securing the area for workers.

Fifield met Squires on the 11th floor as he set up his surveying tripod. Squires would be the last person to speak to Fifield before his death.

"The next thing workers heard was the clatter of something striking the work deck," the joint submission reads, "and catching a glimpse of Fifield and the tripod falling."

Plywood panel not secured

Investigators later found that Fifield had stepped on an eight-foot piece of plywood that had been placed between a concrete wall and slab tables, but not reinforced underneath. The plywood was ¾ of an inch thick, and "gave way underneath him," according to the statement.

Squires had ordered workers that morning to lay down those plywood panels, but not to secure them.

Investigators also found that netting and guardrails had not been installed around hazardous areas on that floor, creating an "imminent danger."

Fifield wasn't told to wear a safety harness or avoid the panel that killed him, even when he spoke to Squires immediately prior to his fall, and was "not familiar with the potential hazards that existed on the day of his accident."

Fifield wasn't wearing a harness when the plywood gave way beneath him, according to a joint submission Wednesday. (Katie Breen/CBC)

In a victim impact statement entered Wednesday, his mother, Margaret Fifield, told the court "life as I knew it came to an end" the day police called her with news of her son's death.

She described three years of enduring heartache and grief.

"A few ashes are all I have left," she wrote. "All I can hope for now is that … his death helps save the anguish of another family having to feel the way I do."

Crown attorney Jeffrey Summers noted the company's wide range of failures to prevent the tragedy. 

"Mr. Fifield essentially fell through a trap door," Summers said. "It was a comedy of errors, the things they didn't have."

The Crown withdrew the remaining charges against the companies and supervisor on Wednesday, and recommended penalties in line with similar health and safety cases. 

For its role in Fifield's death, the court ordered Lancor to pay $60,000 in fines and $20,000 in a charitable donation to Threads of Life, a non-profit organization for families affected by workplace tragedies. The company was convicted of three out of eight occupational health and safety charges laid against it.

Magna, convicted of two its three charges, will pay $15,000 in fines, and Squires will pay $3,000, not including a 30 per cent victim surcharge.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador