Inquest jury finds sawmill death accidental, recommends weekly safety meetings

According to his wife, Troy Bourque made a lasting impression on everyone he met.  (York Funeral Home - image credit)
According to his wife, Troy Bourque made a lasting impression on everyone he met. (York Funeral Home - image credit)

The jury for the inquest into Troy Bourque's death at Devon Lumber in Fredericton, N.B., has determined his death was accidental.

The jury put forward three recommendations to prevent similar deaths and Michael Johnston, the presiding coroner, added one of his own.

On Monday, the jury heard that Bourque died on Oct. 10, 2019, after trying to fix a cover on a moving conveyor belt. Spencer Gill, a coworker, said the metal cover became stuck in the moving belt and crushed Bourque against the bottom of a catwalk.

The jury recommended:

  • Devon Lumber conduct weekly safety meetings and on-going training with monthly work site inspections.

  • Standard operating procedure manuals are developed, including protocol for an accident, mechanical failure or maintenance.

  • The location of safety equipment and emergency stops for machinery are reviewed regularly with employees, as well as the manuals.

Submitted by WorkSafeNB
Submitted by WorkSafeNB

Johnston recommended that WorkSafeNB continue its focus on lockout, tag-out procedures while inspecting sawmill operations. This refers to a procedure where a machine is drained of energy and locked so it can't be operated.

Mill president asked about safety

On Monday, Harry Gill, the president of Devon Lumber, said the fix Bourque had attempted should have been done during a lockout. Gill added that the issue hadn't been reported to maintenance before Bourque tried to fix it.

On Monday, Gill was asked if safety talks with staff had changed after the accident. He said they hadn't changed much and mostly happen one-on-one between workers and other staff such as himself.

Joe McDonald/CBC
Joe McDonald/CBC

"A lot of the guys are senior guys. So new guys, we're very careful. We only place new guys in areas that are very, you know, not much moving equipment until we're confident with them," Gill said.

Bourque had worked at Devon for 29 years at the time of his death.

Gill said his company has spent thousands in physical safety improvements around the mill since 2019.

"It really bothered me. It's been tough for me and the family," he said of the incident. His family has run the company since it was created in 1942.

On Tuesday, Michel Cyr, acting assistant director of investigations at WorkSafeNB, said the agency's investigation concluded with no charges being laid.

Who was Troy Bourque? 

Six days after the accident that took his life, Bourque and his wife Corry Ellen would have celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary.

"But instead we spent it at York Funeral Home, where well over 800 people paid their respects. And said goodbye to Troy," she told the inquest jury Tuesday.

"Troy, he was that guy. You met him once and he left a lasting impression on you."

Corry Ellen was the final witness to testify in the inquest into Bourque's death.

She described her husband as her soul mate.

"Even though our years together were short, I can honestly say we really had the best relationship, we shared everything," she said.

She said Troy was always cautious and never reckless.

"I guess that's why this is so hard to understand," she said.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

When she cleaned out his car, she found four first aid kits.

Together, she said, they liked to go on motorcycle trips, and they enjoyed taking their daughter out in their pontoon boat. On one outing, Troy rescued a father and son who had capsized a sailboat.

He was the type of person who would help friends move or renovate, she said. He helped coach his daughter's volleyball team and used to play in a band called Prairie Fire that he hoped to get back together.

"He was one of a kind," Corry Ellen said.