Transportation worker fell through barricade held in place by zip ties and wire

James (Jimmy) Martin, 64, fell to his death at a Department of Transportation and Infrastructure worksite in August 2019. (Carleton Funeral Home - image credit)
James (Jimmy) Martin, 64, fell to his death at a Department of Transportation and Infrastructure worksite in August 2019. (Carleton Funeral Home - image credit)

The day before James Martin died in a workplace accident, he and co-worker Eric Turner put up a barricade on a bridge they were working on near Woodstock in western New Brunswick.

Turner said they would normally use bolts to attach a piece of 2x6 lumber to the posts on the side of the bridge, but they didn't have the bolts and it was nearing the end of the day.

So they used zip ties and wire to put the boards in place.

The plan was to bolt it properly the next morning, "but it just got overlooked," Turner said Tuesday, on the first day of a three-day coroner's inquest into Martin's death.

The next day at the Bedell Bridge on the Hodgdon Road, no one mentioned the bolts.

At about 1:15 p.m. on Aug. 28, 2019, the two men took a break and Turner left the bridge. He said Martin walked to the side of the bridge, "put his weight on" the rail and fell over backward.

Submitted by WorkSafeNB
Submitted by WorkSafeNB

Turner said Martin was knocked unconscious, and when he regained consciousness, "he kept hollering … 'Eric Turner, help me'" over and over.

Turner said he held Martin's hand until the ambulance arrived.

Martin died in hospital later that day as a result of injuries he suffered in the fall. He had been working for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure at the time of the accident.

The department was fined $125,000 in July 2020 after pleading guilty to violating workplace safety regulations by failing to provide safe guardrails that would have prevented Martin from falling to his death.

Submitted by WorkSafeNB
Submitted by WorkSafeNB

The three-day inquest into Martin's death is being held at the Burton courthouse, near Oromocto, with presiding coroner Emily Caissy overseeing the process.

A five-person jury was selected on Tuesday morning and began hearing witnesses by 10:30 a.m.

The first witness was Michel Cyr, an investigator with WorkSafeNB. He explained to the jury that he took over his investigation after the police were finished at the scene.

Cyr said Martin had fallen 3.35 metres from the bridge to a pile of large rocks below. He showed jury members photographs of the scene that were contained in his report. The pictures included a broken piece of 2x6 where Martin had fallen through.

Submitted by WorkSafeNB
Submitted by WorkSafeNB

He also showed them the other side of the bridge and closeups of where the board was attached to seven posts — some with zip ties and some with wire.

None of it, said Cyr, was done properly under the legislation.

No risk assessment done

These "bump rails," he said were never intended to be sat on. They are intended as a warning barrier and are required for workplaces that are higher than 1.2 metres.

Cyr said Transportation Department officials also didn't fill out a risk assessment form, as was required for such projects.

Cyr's report contained a conclusion section, but Caissy asked that he stand down and deliver that part later.

Submitted by WorkSafeNB
Submitted by WorkSafeNB

On Tuesday afternoon, two more of Martin's co-workers testified.

Gerald Lee said he was trying to stay cool near the railing on one end of the bridge when Martin approached.

"It happened so quick," he told the inquest.

As Martin fell over backwards, he grabbed at Lee, knocking off his glasses and ripping his shirt. Lee said he had to hold onto the post to keep himself from falling.

He said he saw Martin lying on the ground on his side, although he said he couldn't see well without his glasses.

Lee was part of the work crew that put up the railings the day before Martin's death. He said the rails are meant as a "guideline to keep us from going too far to the edge."

Submitted by WorkSafeNB
Submitted by WorkSafeNB

He said it was just supposed to be temporary until they could install the bolts the next morning, but he said, "Everybody just got doing other stuff … and got sidetracked."

Lee said a lot of things changed after Martin's death. There has been a lot more talk about safety, he said, and they go over everything in detail each morning, including what everyone is going to do that day.

Matthew Chase broke down on the stand when he described what happened after Martin fell. He said he immediately ran down the embankment and grabbed a sweater as he went.

Chase said he put the sweater under Martin's head to try to make him comfortable.

He said another man got a cold cloth to try to revive Martin.

Unconscious for four minutes

He said he was "gurgling" as he breathed while unconscious. He said it was about four minutes before Martin woke up.

Chase said Martin wanted to get up "so bad," but was told to stay and keep him comfortable until the ambulance arrived.

After his testimony, Martin's daughter, Holly Jones, asked Chase whether the supervisor had asked anyone to put the bolts in, but Chase said he wasn't sure whether it was talked about.

Jon Collicott/CBC
Jon Collicott/CBC

Under the Coroners Act, an inquest is held when a worker dies as a result of an accident occurring in the course of their employment at a woodland operation, sawmill, lumber processing plant, food processing plant, fish processing plant, construction project site, mining plant or mine, including a pit or quarry.

The jury will have an opportunity to recommend ways to prevent similar deaths. The process does not determine legal responsibility.