Sawmill worker's death could have been avoided, inquest hears

Troy Lewis Bourque was 50 years old at the time of his death and had worked at Devon Lumber for 29 years. (York Funeral Home - image credit)
Troy Lewis Bourque was 50 years old at the time of his death and had worked at Devon Lumber for 29 years. (York Funeral Home - image credit)

The president of a sawmill where Troy Bourque died in 2019 told an inquest jury today the fatal accident could have been avoided.

Bourque, who had worked at Devon Lumber for 29 years, died on Oct. 10, 2019, after being trapped between a conveyor belt cover and the bottom of a catwalk, witnesses said earlier at the first day of the inquest into his death.

About 15 minutes prior to the accident, Harry Gill, president of Devon Lumber, had been on the floor talking to Bourque, Gill testified.

The part of the mill Bourque was attending to did not have wood running through it at the time, so Gill said he told him to work on another line.

Submitted by WorkSafeNB
Submitted by WorkSafeNB

When Gill later heard there was an accident involving Bourque, he said he went to the location he told Bourque to go to but didn't find him there.

"Had he done what I told him, and worked on the other line, it wouldn't have happened," Gill said.

Witnesses explain how Bourque got trapped

Prior to Bourque becoming trapped, the mill's line had been shut down, which meant no wood was running through it but machinery was still in operation, according to Spencer Gill, an employee at Devon Lumber.

When the line is shut down, employees usually use the time to clean up their work area, testified Michel Cyr, acting assistant director of investigations at WorkSafeNB.

Gill said that once the line shut down, Bourque waved him over for help because he had noticed a metal cover for the conveyer belt had come loose.

The two grabbed the cover, which would have weighed about 120 pounds, and attempted to put it back into position, Gill testified.

Joe McDonald/CBC
Joe McDonald/CBC

Gill said the cover somehow came free and fell onto a moving chain going toward Bourque, who was in a less than three-foot-tall space below the catwalk.

"I could see that it was coming right for Troy," Gill said. "So I hollered at him. But the way that he was situated in there, kind of on his knees, there was — there was nowhere for him to go."

Cyr testified that the cover made contact with another cover that pushed it upwards.

It then struck Bourque in the neck and chest area, Cyr said, pinning him underneath the catwalk.

"So he got trapped, and when we showed up that's where he was," Cyr said.

Angela Miller, the forensic pathologist who completed Bourque's autopsy, testified that his cause of death was severe blunt, crushing head, neck and torso injuries.

Tried to unknowingly fix cover incorrectly 

Gill testified that he had never seen this cover out of place before, which he said lead to them not knowing how to put it back on properly.

"We were putting it in the wrong place, which neither of us knew," Gill said.

Joe McDonald/CBC
Joe McDonald/CBC

The cover they tried to fix had a notch which corresponded with a post on the cover it would go up against, Gill said.

"And we didn't see that. So we couldn't put the plate down properly as we thought we were," Gill said.

Conveyor should have been off to fix cover, president says

Harry Gill also said that Bourque could have told him about the issue with the cover, had he noticed it when they spoke, and all machinery would have been shut down and locked so it could be fixed.

"But in this this case here, where these guys took it on on their own, not only was it not locked out, it wasn't turned off, there was — nobody knew they were doing it, it wasn't reported to maintenance."

Gill said the cover is now permanently welded in place, and a restricted-area sign has been placed where Bourque went to try to fix the cover, both recommendations made by WorkSafeNB.

The inquest is scheduled to run until Jan. 18.