'I'm not God,' AIM president says in response to workplace deaths at Saint John plant

·4 min read
American Iron and Metal CEO Herb Black spoke to the media Tuesday, addressing questions about the deaths of two workers at the west Saint John metal recycling plant.  (Julia Wright / CBC - image credit)
American Iron and Metal CEO Herb Black spoke to the media Tuesday, addressing questions about the deaths of two workers at the west Saint John metal recycling plant. (Julia Wright / CBC - image credit)

"Shit happens in life," says Herb Black, president and owner of American Iron and Metal, the Saint John scrap yard where two workers have died in the past seven months.

"The people who say it never happens, nothing happens, are dreaming in 3D. It does happen, and we have to address all the variables, all the issues, to the best of our ability."

Black spoke with reporters at length in Saint John on Tuesday, addressing "a lot of curiosity about what transpired" leading to the deaths of the two workers at the west side metal recycling plant.

He blamed human error for the first death, a man whose name has not been public, and said he couldn't see how the more recent death, of Darrell Richards, could have been prevented.

"I've been in business for 62 years and I've never had anyone die until two years ago," said Black, 78. "I don't know how to prevent it at this juncture."

Graham Thompson / CBC
Graham Thompson / CBC

When asked who was responsible for safety at AIM, Black said, "You have to make a connection with the Lord and ask him. I'm not God. I don't decide."

Black later clarified that there are people whose job it is to carry out safety monitoring, but he declined to provide details specific to safety practices at AIM Atlantic.

He would say not whether safety rules were posted on the site, or provide details about any personal protective equipment workers would have been wearing.

Black did share new information on the circumstances of the two deaths at AIM, which signed a 40-year-lease for its scrap yard with the Port of Saint John in 2002 and has since been the site of fires and dozens of loud explosions. There have been threats of legal action, and mayors, a member of Parliament, and community members have called for AIM's licence to be suspended.

Julia Wright/ CBC
Julia Wright/ CBC

In November, Black said, a truck driver died when his driver-side door became stuck and the worker decided "to go around and get out of the door on the right-hand side of the truck, which is completely blind."

Instead of walking around the front of the truck to signal to the crane operator, the worker then climbed between the tractor and the trailer and through a small hatch into the trailer.

He was killed, Black said, when the crane operator swept the truck out with a broom attachment.

"The crane operator had no idea that anybody was in that trailer," he said. "It was impossible to know. And he gets killed."

"You want to fault the procedures of the crane operator, you want to fault the procedures of AIM, you want to fault that we're not doing a professional job after having a million trucks unloaded that way?

"Maybe he was in a rush, and maybe he was anxious, god knows what he was thinking when he came out that door. He obviously didn't think about the crane that was still operating. Human error. We all make mistakes in life. I don't know what the prevention of that is."

Julia Wright / CBC
Julia Wright / CBC

Daughter-in-law of late worker speaks

Krista Collins, the daughter-in-law of lifelong tradesman Darrell Richards, was also in attendance at the news conference and shed light on Richards's death.

Richards, 60, died July 1 of injuries he suffered while cutting into a paper roll with a saw.

As he made the second cut through, "something caused the roll to decompress," Collins said. "I wouldn't call it an explosion. It wasn't ignited, there was no burns, there was nothing of that nature. It was just laceration to his leg that caused the bleeding."

Submitted by Rick Richards
Submitted by Rick Richards

Collins said she and the family do not bear AIM any ill feeling.

"The general population is looking at AIM like it's a bad place, and it's not fair to the people who work there. They're there feeding their families, they are your neighbours, their children go to school with your children.

"We just want to mourn and get over this."

Julia Wright / CBC
Julia Wright / CBC

'I'm not God'

WorkSafeNB is investigating both of the recent deaths at the yard.

WorkSafe spokesperson Laragh Dooley told CBC on July 6 that once the investigations are completed, depending on the findings, WorkSafe "may recommend that the Department of Justice lay charges against AIM for violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations."

In July, WorkSafeNB issued a stop work for the piece of machinery involved in Richards's death.

No stop work order was issued in November.

WorkSafe has said "complex investigations, such as this one, can take 12 months or more to conclude."

In the meantime, "I don't see how it could have been prevented," Black said. "I genuinely don't. But I welcome an investigation and I welcome somebody coming and showing me that they can teach me something that I don't know.

"Listen, I'm not God. I only have the experience I've accumulated over 62 years."

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