Safety audits among jury's 4 recommendations in Sussex sawmill death

·3 min read
William Gregg, who had worked at the Sussex mill for 26 years, suffered a head injury in the chipper building on Feb. 29, 2016. He died later in hospital.  (Wallace Funeral Home - image credit)
William Gregg, who had worked at the Sussex mill for 26 years, suffered a head injury in the chipper building on Feb. 29, 2016. He died later in hospital. (Wallace Funeral Home - image credit)

A jury has recommended that J.D. Irving Ltd. and similar companies have safety audits and be clear on who's in charge of stopping and starting equipment.

These recommendations, and two others, come as a result of a two-day coroner's inquest, ordered after 52-year-old William Gregg died on the job in February 2016.

Gregg suffered fatal injuries at the 18th hour of a shift, when he was hit by a pry bar he was using to unjam logs in a machine while it was still running.

The inquest heard that what he did was common practice in 2016 and before.

The other two recommendations are: companies should have emergency response plans that include communication with authorities about site access, and companies should have clear hand-off procedures between production mode and maintenance mode when machinery is shut off.

The recommendations came after the jury heard from 12 witnesses and deliberated for almost two hours.

Several changes already made

Darrel Nickerson, director of safety at JDI, testified Wednesday morning.

Nickerson said that in 2016, the company did not mandate workers turn off the chipper or conveyer belt to unjam wood.

The inquest previously heard it was common practice for workers to use a pry bar or a picaroon, an axe-like pick, to free logs while moving the conveyer belt back and forth and while the chipper drums were still rotating.

The inquest also heard that workers tried to reduce the amount of machine downtime because the team would get a cash bonus for high-output days.


Nickerson said employees had an "assumption" that as long as they're not touching the machines, just the wood, it was OK not to turn off the machinery when dealing with logjams.

"We now know that's wrong," he told the inquest.

He said that since Gregg's death, the company has spent about $400,000 on equipment updates and training. This includes installing new fencing over the conveyer belt that feeds into the chipper.

When Gregg died, the fencing was made up of metal rings about a foot apart. One of the rings was missing, leaving a larger gap, but WorkSafeNB investigators said this was not in a factor in Gregg's death.

With the new fence, workers can't put a pry bar through to jostle the logs as it's made up of a fine wire mesh.

The company also installed hydraulic rams that jostled the logs remotely, a step that has reduced the need for workers to physically remove logjams by 90 per cent, Nickerson said.

"[It's] a huge change in the way that we've done things."

He said the company now also mandates all machinery be completely turned off before a logjam is handled, and workers have to fill out a risk assessment form and get supervisor approval before they can check out a pry bar.

Nickerson testified the company has added three supervisor positions.

The company also does not allow anyone to access the chipper room unless the machinery is off.

"The goal was to make sure that this never happens again," he said.

The inquest heard Gregg had been working about 18 hours, six hours over his regular 12-hour shift. While WorkSafeNB investigators didn't find fatigue to be the cause of his death, Nickerson said JDI now mandates workers at all sawmills work no more than 16 hours.

The jury's recommendations did not address the length of shifts or the bonus they're paid for an extra-productive day.

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