Northern companies must re-examine their safety cultures after the 2016 death of a teenaged construction worker in Inuvik, a new report states.
The NWT chief coroner’s office released its final report on David Vinnicombe’s death on Wednesday. The 19-year-old, originally from Australia, was killed when a piece of heavy equipment known as a roller packer – used to compact and smooth the road surface – tipped while he was inside it, pinning him and fatally fracturing his skull and ribs.
Vinnicombe was not wearing his seatbelt at the time, and a Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) report identified a string of failures on behalf of his employer, Inuvik’s Allen Services & Contracting Ltd.
Summarizing those concerns, the coroner wrote: “Mr Vinnicombe [had not] received proper in-depth training on the safe operation of such a large piece of heavy equipment … There was no evidence found that training on safe work practices and procedures had occurred at any time, and no job safety analyses were found or completed for this task. Photos obtained of the heavy equipment … also show unsafe conditions were present, and methods for ensuring compliance were non-existent or were not enforced by the on-site supervision and the management levels of the employer.
“No evidence was found or noted to support any findings that the company may have conducted any training or evaluation of Mr Vinnicombe in the safe operation of the vibrating roller packer, other than a mention that he had been observed operating a lift and loader in the company yard.”
The company was fined $100,000 over the incident in February – roughly a tenth of its reported annual revenue.
Wednesday’s report from the coroner’s office urged northern businesses, and safety organizations, to be more active in making sure staff know, and follow, the right procedures at work.
The coroner recommended a public education campaign around safety when using powered mobile equipment like roller packers; more independent safety audits for employers; and research into ways of making heavy equipment accidents less likely to kill or injure.
In particular, the coroner stressed early warning systems should be in place, including audible and visual alerts, and radios for instant communication in emergencies.
The report said: “Mr Vinnicombe was a young worker, who started with the company as a general labourer and shop support worker. He showed eagerness to succeed and wanted challenges.
“Enforcement by the employer or its representatives was not part of the safety culture with the company, which may have encouraged complacency on the part of the workers. The company failed to properly evaluate and monitor Mr Vinnicombe’s skills as a competent operator of heavy equipment.
“Mr Vinnicombe was said to have grown up around heavy equipment associated with mining in Australia, but this did not and could not make him a competent operator of the roller packer without proper training and evaluation.”
WSCC, one of the safety organizations to which the report addressed its recommendations, said it was reviewing the document before determining its next steps.
“There is always more that can be done to ensure workplace safety for all,” read a prepared statement from Dave Grundy, WSCC’s president and chief executive.
Cabin Radio asked Allen Services & Contracting Ltd for comment on the report, and on changes to its working practices since the June 2016 accident. The company did not immediately respond to that request.