Safety violations laid in diver's death at Nova Scotia Power plant
Luke Seabrook, 39, died in 2 years ago today after getting stuck underwater in a sluice gate
A small commercial diving company in Hammonds Plains, N.S., has been charged with four offences under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act following the death of an employee two years ago today.
Luke Seabrook died on July 15, 2015 after getting stuck underwater in a sluice gate at the Nova Scotia Power tidal plant in Annapolis Royal.
The 39-year-old commercial diver from Dartmouth was working for a company hired by the utility to inspect the gates controlling the flow of the powerful tides of the Annapolis River.
According to court documents, Paul's Diving Services Inc. is alleged to have:
- Failed to provide information, instruction, training, and supervision necessary to address water flow hazards at the tidal generating station;
- Failed to take precautions "to ensure that employees, and particularly the supervisors and foremen were made familiar with... hazardous water pressure differential that may exist at the sluice gates";
- Failed to ensure a written dive plan was in place that met the requirements of the province's Occupational Diving Regulations;
- Failed to ensure that a dive was not conducted in hazardous water-flow conditions.
The charges have not been proven in court. A representative of the company is due in Digby provincial court on July 24 to enter a plea.
An official from the company declined to comment on the matter, when reached by phone Saturday.
If convicted, penalties could include a fine as high as $500,000, up to two years in jail, or both a fine and a jail term.
Seabrook's family was told the gate was not fully closed and powerful water pressure sucked him into the gap. His helmet was wedged in the opening, trapping him underwater.
Charging 'the little guy'
The province has up to two years to investigate and lay charges in workplace incidents. Seabrook's family and diving safety advocates have been raising the case as a "catalyst for change."
In a letter emailed in May to provincial officials, including Premier Stephen McNeil, the family urged the province to consider laying charges against Nova Scotia Power.
Seabrook's mother Angela Seabrook said she feared labour officials might be "apprehensive about laying charges further up the line" and that the Occupational Health and Safety Branch had not fulfilled its mandate for workplace safety "based on the decision to only charge the little guy."
"Too many large corporations escape being held accountable for hiring third-party contractors," she said.
'No evidence' against NSP
The province disputed that. Daniel McNeil, a spokesperson for the Labour Department, said "no evidence was gathered to support laying charges against Nova Scotia Power Inc."
For its part, Nova Scotia Power spokesperson Tiffany Chase said in an email that Seabrook's death was a "terrible tragedy. Our thoughts are with his family. Workplace safety is integral to our corporate culture."
The CEO of the Diver Certification Board of Canada, David Parkes, said he agreed that Nova Scotia Power should not be charged because the utility was not Seabrook's employer.
Parkes said he expects only a "slight improvement" in the commercial diving world as a result of the charges. He said diving contractors will be "more and more conscious on doing things like dive plans, taking a better job safety analysis before they start work."
He said Nova Scotia lags behind New Brunswick, which has trained nine general inspectors in diving issues since the accident.
Parkes said he would like to see Nova Scotia adopt regulations that require contractors to notify the Labour Department 24 hours in advance of a dive project. That's the law in Ontario and British Columbia.
Steve Donovan, a diving safety expert, said relying solely on regulations isn't the answer. He said it's up to commercial diving contractors to adopt best practices to ensure a diver's safety.