Spilak Tank Truck Services Ltd. pleaded guilty on July 12, 2023 to an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) violation in Slave Lake Court of Justice.
The Slave Lake company pleaded guilty to Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Code 12 (b). Specifically in regard to making sure a shaft extension coupler was maintained in such a way that it didn’t have any catch hazards.
The Crown prosecutor withdrew another alleged OHS violation.
On January 11, 2022, Scott L’Hirondelle (37), from High Prairie, died in a workplace accident. He leaves behind a wife and five children. His wife and the two OHS investigators were in the courtroom for the guilty plea and sentencing. One of the Spilak owners and the OHS manager were also in the courtroom.
This was only the second court appearance, but the accident happened over a year ago.
This was “an extremely difficult case” to investigate, said the prosecutor.
L’Hirondelle had been a truck driver for 11 years. He had worked for Spilak since November 2020.
On January 11, L’Hirondelle drove from High Prairie to Slave Lake to start his shift at 3:45 a.m., the court heard. He drove a tanker truck and picked up liquid waste from oilfield sites and took it to the Mitsue industrial area. He made several trips. Around 4 p.m., he started to unload at the Mitsue site. For some reason, he removed the safety guard before starting to grease the shaft, which was rotating. The glove on his left hand caught on a bolt. He was sucked in and strangled to death. His body was discovered by another worker at 5:35 p.m. They did CPR and called an ambulance but he was dead.
The investigation found that the bolt was a catch hazard and training on greasing was inconsistent. He had been trained not to remove the safety guard.
The investigation didn’t find out why the safety guard was removed, however, it was too short to cover the longer bolt.
The company uses two types of pumps. In 2019, this one was changed from one to the other. The new one has a longer shaft, so the guard didn’t cover the bolt. It was a new bolt, the court heard, slightly longer than the one it had replaced.
The training included information on greasing the shafts, but was not clear that the two different shafts are greased differently. This one was not supposed to be greased while running. The other one was supposed to be greased while running.
“They intended to comply,” the Crown said about Spilak’s. The company has an OHS manager and had received a certificate of recommendation.
“There were no prior near misses with this unit,” said the defence.
Spilak is a family-owned trucking business in Slave Lake. It was started in 1972. In 2023, it has 80 employees and 40 trucks.
“We feel Scott’s loss deeply,” said a Spilak representative in court. “We want to extend our deepest apologies.”
After the incident, the company reached out to L’Hirondelle’s widow to offer support, the court heard. Fellow employees also raised some money. The company is also working hard to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Spilak’s defence lawyer said that the company has talked about the accident at two industry events. Shortly after the accident, it sent out an energy safety bulletin so other companies would learn about the danger. The accident happened at the Secure Energy site in Mitsue Industrial Park. This company has since done inspections to make sure the safety guards are not removed. They identified two close calls. They shut down work and explained the danger.
The defence lawyer added that Spilak’s implemented all changes made by OHS including extending guards, checking bolts, and making sure that the training is clear.
In his remarks, Justice C.K. Thietke said mitigating factors in the case are the remorse of the company, the early guilty plea and “a moderate level of negligence.” He added, “This was a failure and the company accepts this was a failure … good faith efforts were made by the company.”
Spilak was fined $270,000, to be paid in installments.
The maximum in the statute is $500,000. Generally, companies are fined between $275,000 and $350,000, the prosecutor said.
by Leader staff