Nova Scotia

J.D. Irving Ltd. fined in death of worker at Valley, N.S., sawmill

J.D. Irving Ltd. was fined $89,000 in penalties Tuesday in Truro provincial court in a worker's 2016 death. Chad Smith, 28, of Bible Hill was killed on the job in June 2016.

'Judge Bégin made of a point of saying that Chad Smith's death was preventable,' Crown attorney says

Flags flew half-mast at the sawmill after Chad Smith was killed on the job at the J.D. Irving Sawmill in 2016. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Kalie Olmstead says she's found a little bit of closure after J.D. Irving Ltd. was hit with $89,500 in penalties Tuesday for a 2016 workplace accident that killed her fiancé, Chad Smith.

Olmstead, who lives in Great Village, N.S., and Smith have a daughter together. The 28-year-old Smith was killed at the lumber mill in Valley, near Bible Hill, two months before the wedding and the day after Olmstead bought her wedding dress. 

"It's good that things went the way we hoped they went and that it's finally over," Olmstead said after the sentencing. "The thing I'm most glad about ... is that it's over."

Chad Smith reading a book with his daughter Chloe. (Submitted by Kalie Olmstead)

'Serious consequences to these offences'

Truro provincial court Judge Alain Bégin fined Irving $34,500 and also ordered it to pay $55,000 to set up a bursary in the victim Chad Smith's name for students in the Nova Scotia Community College's occupational health and safety program.

"Obviously, the $89,500 is meant to punish Irving and to send a message that there are serious consequences to these offences," Crown attorney Alex Keaveny said in an interview. "But the bursary is also meant to remind students studying in the … program of why they're studying there  — who are they working to protect?"

Olmstead agrees.

"It's just good for them to know there are cases that happen and they really need to do due diligence and make sure it doesn't happen again," she said.

Chad Smith and Kalie Olmstead were engaged. (Submitted by Kalie Olmstead )

The sentence was a joint recommendation by the Crown and defence.

According to an agreed statement of facts that Keaveny read in court, Smith, 28, was killed on June 27, 2016 when he was struck by a front-end loader while crossing a bridge for vehicles and pedestrians at the sawmill.

The accident happened just moments after he arrived at work. He died at the scene.

Guilty plea entered

The case was set to go to trial in May. But about a week before the trial, Irving agreed to plead guilty to one count of violating the Occupational Health and Safety Act that required them to follow the Canadian Standards Association's rules on lift-truck usage.

Alex Keaveny is Nova Scotia's first Crown attorney for workplace health and safety prosecutions. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"Basically, the standard requires that when at all possible, pedestrians and these vehicles have to be physically separate from each other," Keaveny said. "And where it's impossible to keep them physically separate, there have to be clear rules both for the operation of the motorists and for the movement of pedestrians."

Olmstead said she was relieved Irving pleaded guilty. She said she was surprised the company admitted it was at fault.

"It does help with closure," Olmstead said. "It's been waiting for dates and knowing that it's over, knowing that they were at fault, there's a lot of closure for everybody involved," said Olmstead.

On June 27, 2016, Colchester RCMP responded to the industrial accident at the mill just after 6 p.m.

Robert (Bob) Sellers, Smith's co-worker, was operating the loader that struck Smith. Sellers was moving bundles of green wood from one side of the yard to another.

Neither Sellers nor another loader operator who had also crossed over the bridge a minute earlier saw Smith, court heard.

Sellers found Smith after the incident and immediately yelled for help. His co-workers attempted first aid and called 911.

Smith's death was preventable

Chad Smith's parents and grandparents are suing his employer J.D. Irving Ltd. for his 2016 workplace death. (Submitted by Kalie Olmstead)

Both Sellers and Smith were following company policy, Keaveny said.

"Judge Bégin made of a point of saying that Chad Smith's death was preventable, and that neither Chad Smith nor Bob Sellers were at fault for Chad's death — it was a failing by J.D. Irving," Keaveny said.

At the time of the incident, the yard and bridge did not have any barriers to separate pedestrians and lift-trucks anywhere on the site. There were no signs requiring lift-trucks to stop at all intersections and there were no marked crosswalks.

Irving brought in changes

Following Smith's death, J.D. Irving Ltd. revamped its site walk zone policy and spent more than $100,000 on site improvements.

They included:

• Additional safety training.

• A new pedestrians-only bridge.

• Stop signs installed at the bridge.

• New barriers installed to separate vehicle traffic and pedestrians.

"Chad Smith was a valued employee and friend to so many at the sawmill," said Mary Keith, a spokeswoman for the company.

"Our thoughts remain with his family. We respect the verdict of the court. In the time that has passed since this tragedy we have worked together as a team to improve workplace safety at the mill for the well-being of all."

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia 

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story suggested the $55,000 Irving was ordered to pay to set up a bursary in Chad Smith's name was on top of $89,500 in penalties. In fact, the bursary is included in the $89,500.
    Aug 08, 2018 10:34 AM AT

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca