Companies, individuals fined for worker death in Labrador welding explosion

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Companies, individuals fined for worker death in Labrador welding explosion

Stafford's Welding, Woodward's Oil Ltd. and an individual with each company have been fined a total of $108,000 in relation to the 2013 workplace death of Kristopher Tuff.

Tuff, 24, was killed when he was working as a welder inside a fuel tanker in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

"I'm just glad that it's over," said his mother, Dominica Tuff, after the ruling on Friday.

"They faced it, I guess, and admitted to their guilt and never fought it because that would be the worst thing, if they didn't admit it."

The explosion

An agreed statement of facts outlines that Tuff, who didn't have confined space entry training, climbed down a ladder into a fuel tanker on Aug. 3, 2013.

Before using a plasma cutter — a tool which uses an electrical charge to melt metal — Tuff called out to a senior Stafford's employee, Barry Wade, to make sure the equipment was grounded.

The ladder was taken out.

Once Tuff began welding, "the diesel vapour in the tank exploded which caused the internal baffle to blow out towards Mr. Tuff, fatally injuring him," read the court documents.

People responsible

Wade, who on Friday was fined $5,000 for his involvement, was thrown from the top of the tanker. He wasn't wearing the proper fall protection equipment at the time.

It was his responsibility to check the air quality of the tank, ensure there was adequate ventilation, complete an onsite rescue plan and ensure Tuff had the proper training.

Wade did not attend the court proceedings.

Woodward's garage manager, Mike Rogers, did attend. He apologized to the family, saying he takes "full responsibility for [his] part."

Rogers had helped adjust Tuff's air mask before the junior welder climbed down into the tanker, without a helmet.

Rogers, who as also injured in the accident, was fined $3,000.

Both Wade and Rogers had training in confined spaces, unlike Tuff.

They must each now take a two-day safety supervisor course at their own expense.

Family reacts

Alex Tuff, Kristopher's bother, compared the family to a sturdy, four-legged table that's now "wobbled and teetered," missing a leg after his brother's death.

In the victim impact statement he read aloud in Happy Valley-Goose Bay provincial court, he recalled his brother's bright blue eyes and big laugh, saying Kristopher was supposed to be the one he'd walk through life the longest with.

Garry Tuff, Kristopher's dad, talked about visiting his eldest son's grave with a cup of tea and taking care of his late son's dog, Lex.

"You mention Kristopher's name, the dog totally changes, different dog altogether," he told CBC news after the proceedings.

"She's still looking for his white truck. She sees a white truck go by and she still looks for it — just like we do," added Kristopher's stepmother, Carol Tuff.

Penalities

Stafford's Welding, Tuff's employer, was fined $55,000. Woodwards Oil, the company who had hired Stafford's to do work on the tanker, received a $45,000 fine.

Both companies declined to comment after the fines were levied, but said in court that the preventable workplace accident had caused a shift in their clients' safety culture.

Woodwards has since hired a new garage maintenance manager and labourer, acknowledging its facility was "unkempt" when the resulting occupational health and safety inspection occurred.

It now sends all tankers needing welding work to a "tank repair expert" based in St. John's and has redrafted its safety procedures with the help of a Halifax-based safety expert.

Stafford's lawyer said the company also hired health and safety consultants after the incident to develop a confined space management program for the company.

Hopes for the future

Five per cent of the fines paid will go to Threads of Life, an organization that helps families who have been affected by workplace injures, illness and death. Alex Tuff is a speaker with the group.

When Mike Rogers, the Woodwards supervisor, was returning to his seat after apologizing to the Tuffs before the court, Alex handed him a glass of water.

"I feel that was kind of like a, 'It's alright,'" the younger brother said.

"At the end of the day, we all have to deal with that little devil inside of us …  At some point, you've got to help each other out."

"I feel that there is no bad person here," added mother, Dominica Tuff.

"It's just stupid choices that they made."