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Inquest hears how 2-tonne container crushed N.B. worker, resulting in his death

William Russell died on Feb. 11, 2021, following a workplace incident at Marwood Ltd. in Tracyville, N.B. just days earlier. (Bishop's Funeral Home - image credit)
William Russell died on Feb. 11, 2021, following a workplace incident at Marwood Ltd. in Tracyville, N.B. just days earlier. (Bishop's Funeral Home - image credit)

Testimony at a coroner's inquest into a New Brunswick man's death has revealed how a piece of machinery at the centre of the workplace incident wasn't built to proper specification.

William (Bill) Russell was pushing a large plastic tote that weighed two tonnes along a roll case, when it tipped off one of the rollers, falling back and crushing him, said Michel Cyr, manager of investigations for WorkSafeNB, on Monday.

Cyr was the first to testify at a two-day coroner's inquest into how Russell was injured at Marwood Limited in Tracyville, about 28 kilometres south of Fredericton, on Feb 1, 2021.

Russell died at the Saint John Regional Hospital as a result of his injuries in the early morning hours of Feb. 11, 2021.

Cyr testified that on Oct. 30, 2020, engineers at Marwood designed a roll case to be used in a recently constructed warehouse at their facility.

The roll case was 39 feet long and was designed to have rollers installed along it every 18 inches, Cyr said.

For the last 40 years, Marwood, provided power poles to NB Power. Now the provincial utility has decided to purchase poles from the large North American company Stella Jones.
For the last 40 years, Marwood, provided power poles to NB Power. Now the provincial utility has decided to purchase poles from the large North American company Stella Jones.

A coroner's inquest into Russell's death heard testimony from employees who worked at Marwood at the time of the incident. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Cyr said the roll case was built on site using spare metal the company had at the facility, and the purpose of it was so that large totes — or containers — could be moved from the entrance of the warehouse to the other end of the building.

While the rollers were supposed to be installed 18 inches apart, two of the rollers were actually 22¼-inches apart, Cyr said.

At around noon on Feb. 1, 2021, Russell was helping another employee load a tote onto the roll case, when they encountered difficulty getting the rollers to move it along, Cyr said.

At that time, Russell stepped behind the tote and, standing between two of the rollers, began pushing it.

"What happened is when they got to the 22-inch [gap in the rollers], the tote wasn't centred on the rollers and ultimately the tote … moved back and fell on Mr. Russell," Cyr said.

User instructions weren't posted, says employee

Patrick Wilbur and Christopher Titus, counsel for coroner Emily Caissy, also called on former and current employees, who testified that operations manuals for the roll case weren't shared with staff prior to Russell's death, and that no inspection report was done prior to putting it into use.

Nathan Doucet testified he worked as Marwood's operations manager at the time, putting him in charge of safety for the company's employees.

That involved tracking whether employees were following the standard operating procedure for equipment used at the company, which takes raw wood and turns it into value-added products, he said.

However, when it came to the roll case that had been installed in late 2020, no standard operating procedure had been devised for it.

"When you go to a mill site, you're looking at sharp things, objects, blades ... whatever it may be," Doucet said.

"This [roll case] essentially to us, or to myself, was a shelf. It was a storage shelf, it was a storage area."

Of all the places we'd have thought somebody would get hurt, this wasn't one of them. -Ryan Jones, engineer with Marwood Ltd.

Ryan Jones, an engineer at Marwood, also testified about a lack of any assessment to identify potential hazards related to the roll case.

He said while the company had at one time filled out a "new equipment start-up" sheet when implementing new equipment, they hadn't done so in years at the time of the incident.

"In this case, we didn't really look at it as a piece of equipment. In hindsight now, of course we do, but we considered it a shelf," Jones said.

"Of all the places we'd have thought somebody would get hurt, this wasn't one of them. It's an oversight," Jones said.

Recommendations expected Tuesday

The first day of the inquest also heard evidence about the injuries Russell sustained, which included neurological damage and multi-organ failure as a result of a collapsed lung and damage to his liver, spleen and kidneys.

The evidence is being heard by five jurors, with New Brunswick coroner Emily Caissy presiding over the inquest.

At the outset, Caissy reminded the jurors that the inquest is not a trial, and rather than laying blame, their role is to determine how to best prevent something similar from happening again.

The jurors are expected to hear more testimony on Tuesday morning before issuing recommendations.

The inquest comes after Marwood pleaded guilty to "failing to ensure the safety of their employees working on, with, or around a conveyor," under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act.

In December 2021, the company was ordered to pay $102,000 — a fine of $85,000 plus a victim surcharge of $17,000.