Family of Steven Lutes says inquest into his 2017 death has opened old wounds

·4 min read
Steven Lutes was working on the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Fredericton on Jan. 30, 2017 when he fell, dying from his injuries. (Submitted by Simon Jones - image credit)
Steven Lutes was working on the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Fredericton on Jan. 30, 2017 when he fell, dying from his injuries. (Submitted by Simon Jones - image credit)

Simon Jones said he knew from WorkSafeNB investigators that his brother-in-law had been wearing his safety harness, but was not anchored in, when he fell from the fourth floor of Fredericton's Hilton Garden Inn while it was under construction on Jan. 30, 2017.

But until a two-day coroner's inquest was conducted in Saint John this week, he'd never understood how it could have happened to a carpenter who had risen to the role of site supervisor.

Jones said people who laboured alongside Lutes described him as hard-working, exemplary and precise.

WATCH | Family member describes what it was like to hear details about short-staffed worksite where Steven Lutes died

However, the testimony of two witnesses at the inquest suggested Lutes succumbed to pressure to meet deadlines while short-staffed and ended up cutting corners with his own safety.

A recorded statement from Joel Gardner, who described himself as Lutes's right-hand man, taken the day after the accident, was played for the jury. Jones said he was struck by the carelessness described by Gardner.

Graham Thompson/CBC News
Graham Thompson/CBC News

"I think it was 50 minutes of listening to how run off their feet they were," said Jones in an interview after the inquest concluded.

"How rushed they were. How everyone was doing five things at once because they were so short-staffed."

He said he was struck by Gardner's description of Lutes as a man who never walked, but "floated."

"I almost choked up in court," said Jones. "Because Steven was exactly like that. He was just everywhere.

"He was running up and down, up and down, up and down. He didn't stop."

"To hear someone who was there and actually saw how rushed they were, how short-staffed they were, how it was just go, go, go … How could Steven possibly, possibly have done everything that was expected of him."

Jones was in provincial court in Fredericton when Lutes's employer, Lead Structural Formwork was fined $50,000 in 2019 in connection with Lutes's death.

The company had already pleaded guilty to a charge under the Occupational Health and Safety Act of failing to ensure the fall-protection system was used.

We need to go home to our families in one piece and alive.
- Simon Jones, brother-in-law of Steven Lutes

"But there was no testimony given," said Jones.  "It was an agreed statement of fact, a very sanitized statement of facts. So a lot of the details that we've heard in court today we hadn't heard before."

"I think, as well, it's allowed us to once again realize how much Steven meant to us and to get a message out there that this death was entirely preventable."

Devoted Father 

Jones said his wife Stephanie is Lutes's only sibling, and the two were incredibly close growing up. Jones said he and Stephanie are the godparents of her brother's two children, Riley and Madison.

Lutes poured all his love into his kids, Jones said.

"In the middle of winter, they'd be outside building snow forts. He built tree houses with them in the back garden. He'd run around with Super Soakers in the middle of summer in a pair of bathers," said Jones.

"He made them the centre of his world."

Jones said the family is doing the best they can.

He said Madison just had her 16th birthday and went to a prom, "and she looked absolutely stunning, confident and wonderful." And Riley's playing soccer.

"Even though it's [been] five and a half years, we haven't forgotten about it," said Jones.

'Everyone's responsibility'

When the inquest concluded Tuesday, the jury provided a sole recommendation.

  • All high-risk workplaces should require safety supervisors dedicated to on-site safety compliance. High-risk workplaces can be defined by WorkSafeNB.

Jones said to have one person on a site whose only job is to focus on safety could be effective, especially if that person had the authority to shut the worksite down if they saw a safety problem.

He isn't looking for more regulations but he hopes the inquest serves as a reminder that every worker, from the most junior to the CEO, has to prioritize their training, and what they know to be the right thing to do.

"I really think if Steven was here today and could speak, he would say, 'Take a moment. Look around the dinner table at your family. Look around the staff room, the lunch room, at your colleagues and ask the question, 'What are we doing? Can we do this better? Are there things we can improve?'"

"We all need to go home at the end of the work day," Jones said.

"We need to go home to our families in one piece and alive. Steven didn't have that. But I think that's what he would say if he was here."

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