Forestry giant J.D. Irving Ltd. says it takes full responsibility for the death of 52-year-old William Gregg, a veteran sawmill worker who suffered a fatal accident while working overtime on Feb. 29, 2016.
The company entered a guilty plea Tuesday in Saint John provincial court to violating the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Lawyer Catherine Lahey said JDI regrets the incident and mourns the loss of a deeply respected friend and colleague who had worked with the mill for 25 years.
Gregg was married. He has two grown daughters, but neither appeared in the courtroom because of what prosecutors described as a miscommunication.
They did not provide any victim impact statements.
Lahey told the court that the family had been provided with a new furnished Kent Home and that Gregg's widow, identified as Janet Gregg in his obituary, had been provided with health and dental benefits until July 2021.
According to the statement of fact, Gregg finished his regular shift at about 7 a.m. that Wednesday and was asked to work another six hours because the next regularly scheduled de-barker operator would not be in.
There were no witnesses to what happened next, but operational time stamps suggest Gregg tried to fix a logjam around 1 p.m., near the end of his shift, by switching the chipper forward and then into reverse.
It's then believed that he used a pry bar while the chipper and the in-feed belt were operating.
"It is believed that the pry bar used by Mr. Gregg was energized by the movement and the weight of the logs and Mr. Gregg was struck in the side of the neck and jaw area by the pry bar," said the statement.
He was found by a co-worker at 1:05 p.m., lying on the floor, unconscious, in front of the machine.
An ambulance was called and Gregg was given CPR while waiting for it to arrive.
He was taken to the hospital in Sussex and then transferred to the Saint John Regional Hospital.
According to his obituary, that's where he died.
The company admitted in court that it failed to ensure that Gregg complied with the legislative requirements by locking out and ensuring the chipper machine was in a zero energy state when he attempted to dislodge the logjam.
Lahey told the court that the company has since hired three additional supervisors and provided more safety training.
She said the company spent nearly $400,000 on mill remodelling costs and safety equipment.
When Judge Kelly Ann Winchester asked if there had been any violations of the safety act since, Lahey said no.
The court was informed the sawmill employs 96 people and exports most of its softwood to the U.S.
The recommended fine of $80,000 was a joint submission from prosecutor Chris Titus and Lahey.
The fact that the company pleaded guilty was accepted by the court as a mitigating circumstance.
The company was given 30 days to pay.