Man alleging he faced racism at worksite says he was purposely shot with nail gun

Nhlanhla Dlamini alleges his co-worker regularly called him a racist name and harassed him on the job, and punctured his lung after firing a nail gun at him at a Pictou County construction site in Nova Scotia.

RCMP have arrested a man, but employer's lawyer says nail-gun shooting was an accident

Nhlanhla Dlamini says he suffered a punctured lung after being intentionally shot with a nail gun by a co-worker on a worksite in Abercrombie, N.S., on Sept. 19. He says medical staff inserted a chest tube to release air that was building up between his lung and his chest wall, causing his lung to collapse. (Steve Berry/CBC)

A man has been arrested after a construction worker in Nova Scotia's Pictou County alleged harassment by a colleague escalated last month from racist name calling to being purposely shot in the back with a nail gun.

Nhlanhla Dlamini, 21, said he was working at the site of a new home in Abercrombie when his co-worker pulled back the safety on the air-powered tool, aimed it at him, and waited for him to turn and run before firing.

RCMP said Wednesday that a 43-year-old man was arrested Sept. 27 and is facing a charge of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. They have not released the man's name. 

A lawyer for Dlamini's employer, P.Q. Properties Ltd., has vigorously maintained the Sept. 19 nail-gun shooting was an accident, dismissing the police investigation as "ridiculous."

On the day of the incident, Dlamini, who is black, said his co-worker accused him of working too slowly before threatening him with the nail gun.

Dlamini says he was struck with a 3½-inch nail. The company says the shooting was an accident. (Steve Berry/CBC)

"He turned around and pulled the safety on the gun, and points at me and says, 'I'll show you how to speed up,'" Dlamini said in an interview with CBC News.

"I just looked at him and I was just like, 'What are you doing that for?' And he just smiled.

"And when he smiled about it, I just turned around and started running. And that's when he shot the air nail and it hit me in the back."

His lung was punctured with a 3½-inch framing nail, he said.

Dlamini said he was screaming and yelling, trying to make sense of what happened, when the man came over to him as he lay on the ground, plucked the nail out and threw it away as a small crowd gathered to see what was going on.

The man told the three other people on the crew and their boss, Paul Quinn, that a smaller finishing nail had accidentally ricocheted and nicked Dlamini, he said.

Dlamini says the nail gun was loaded with 3½-inch framing nails the day he was shot. This nail is the same size. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Dlamini said because he was in shock, struggling to breathe and talk at the same time, he couldn't tell his side of the story. There were no witnesses to the incident.

"It was just me and him, and that was the scariest part, and he used that as an opportunity to tell them whatever he wanted," he said. "I'm still in shock. I can't believe it."  

One of the workers put a Band-Aid on Dlamini's wound. Dlamini said Quinn drove him home and did not offer any medical attention. 

When a friend drove him to the hospital over an hour later, Dlamini said his doctor told him it could have been far worse if he hadn't gotten medical attention.

Dlamini said he required emergency surgery to repair a collapsed lung and spent four days in the hospital with a chest tube.

His mother, Stacey Dlamini, told CBC News she called Quinn and informed him her son was undergoing emergency surgery and asked why he hadn't been taken to hospital. She then called the RCMP. 

Stacey Dlamini, in her home in Pictou, N.S., says she told P.Q. Properties Ltd. owner Paul Quinn the details of her son’s injuries in a phone call from the hospital on the day Nhlanhla was shot with a nail gun at a worksite. (Steve Berry/CBC)

When reached by phone by CBC News, Quinn referred questions to his lawyer, Craig Clarke. Quinn is a New Glasgow-based property developer and landlord. The workers were building him a new home when the incident occurred.

In a Sept. 23 interview, four days after the incident, Clarke disputed that Dlamini was seriously injured. He said the nail shooting wasn't intentional and that the wound only required a Band-Aid. 

Quinn did not contact the RCMP after the incident because "there was no reason to," said Clarke.

He said Quinn offered to drive Dlamini to the hospital or call an ambulance but he refused. Dlamini's refusal was documented in an incident report Quinn prepared with statements from people at the worksite, said Clarke.

He declined to share the report with CBC News. Quinn is not required to give the report to the RCMP, he said.

"I would not concur with RCMP's position at all that a serious injury happened. I would also strongly take the position that the RCMP, based on the information that I reviewed, have no reason whatsoever to be involved in any criminal investigation whatsoever. Zero," said Clarke.

Quinn, owner of P.Q. Properties in New Glasgow, tells CBC to leave Centennial Drive in Abercrombie on Sept. 27. The road leads to the construction site of a new home where a workplace incident occurred on Sept 19. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Reached again Wednesday, Clarke said three people who were at the site that day don't support Dlamini's allegations and there's no basis for any charge.

Dlamini said he had been on the job for just three weeks when the nail-gun shooting occurred. During those few weeks, he said the co-worker who fired the gun called him "Squigger" and occasionally referred to him as "whatever the F they call you at home."

The co-worker also threw nails at him, hammered his booted foot and stapled his jacket to a staircase, Dlamini said.

He said he was the only person of colour on the worksite and the only person bullied by the man.

He said he first introduced himself as Nh — a shortened version of his South African name — but the name Squigger stuck. 

At first, he did not understand what the nickname meant, until a friend told him.

"I've been letting them literally call me the N-word, just without the N being the first thing," said Dlamini. "I was repelled by that. I was taken aback. And I just feel uncomfortable ever going back to a job site that would be like that."

Dlamini moved to Canada with his family from South Africa five years ago. (Steve Berry/CBC)

He also said the man who shot the nail told him everyone should own a black person.

"I don't want to rush into pulling the racist card. But in this incident, knowing that Squigger was the N-word, low-key," said Dlamini. "I can say that it was a racist act and a racist situation."

At one point, Dlamini spoke to his co-worker directly, saying he was uncomfortable and concerned for his personal safety. The man responded that he would keep doing what he wanted, said Dlamini. 

Dlamini said he feared for his job and tried to keep his head down. He was worried the man would retaliate if he shared his concerns with Quinn, he said.

Clarke said he was unaware of any bullying or racism at P.Q. Properties. 

"I have no knowledge of that whatsoever. I couldn't comment on that. But in the incident reports I reviewed, there's nothing about that.

"If somebody's making an allegation like that, they should be prepared to back it up."

P.Q. Properties is building a new home on Centennial Drive in Abercrombie. (Steve Berry/CBC)

There have been no charges laid against Quinn or P.Q. Properties, Clarke said. 

The Department of Labour said they were notified of the incident by the RCMP, but they are not involved while the criminal investigation is ongoing.

Employers in Nova Scotia are required to report serious injuries to the Department of Labour within 24 hours.

Clarke said he's not aware if there was any communication between Quinn and the department.

Department spokesperson Chrissy Matheson could not comment on the incident and said there is no requirement that employers seek medical care for injured workers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The department later corrected Matheson's statement to say employers are required to ensure that employees needing medical attention are able to obtain that care, which often involves calling 911. 

Under the Workers' Compensation Act, employers have a duty to report injuries that require medical attention or time off work, according to a spokesperson for the Workers Compensation Board.

The department said it has not placed a stop-work order or any conditions on the worksite.

A construction worker in Truro, N.S., demonstrates how to pull back the safety and fire a nail gun similar to the one that Dlamini alleges was used at P.Q. Properties. (Steve Berry/CBC)

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About the Author

Mairin Prentiss

Reporter

Mairin Prentiss is a reporter in Nova Scotia. Get in touch at mairin.prentiss@cbc.ca