Supervisor sentenced to three years for negligence in New Brunswick WWTP death

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A New Brunswick construction supervisor who failed to follow safety protocols for his workers has been sentenced to three years in prison for the drowning death of a teenage employee at Fredericton’s Barker Street Treatment Facility in 2018.

Jason King, 46, was found guilty in June on a charge of criminal negligence causing the death of Michael Henderson, 18, who was pinned against the wall of a concrete clarifier hole when a large inflatable water plug slid out.

New Brunswick Court of King’s Bench Justice Thomas Christie told the court that the prison sentence was based on deterrence and “necessary to convey to the public that criminal acts will not go unpunished and to deter others from committing similar acts.”

During the trial, Crown prosecutor Christopher Lavigne questioned King about his safety knowledge and preparation since his promotion to supervisor in 2016.

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“I’m not a reader,” King told the court.

King’s lawyers fought for a conditional sentence of 12 to 18 months.

The United Steelworkers (USW) union issued a statement that noted King failed to follow basic safety directions from the plug’s manufacturer and failed to comply with the legislative requirements for confined space work.

“The sentence must serve as a deterrent to employers who continue to evade or minimize their responsibilities, to the detriment of worker safety,” said Myles Sullivan, USW director for Ontario and Atlantic Canada, in a statement. 

The Canadian Labour Congress and the USW, who had members in attendance at the sentencing, called the three-year sentence a direct message to Canadian employers that rules must be followed on work sites. 

“It is unconscionable how the supervisor failed in his duties,” said Bea Bruske, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, in a statement. “This young man had his whole life in front of him — his death was completely preventable and the lives of his family and those he loved will never be the same.” 

Bruske suggested that King’s employer, Springhill Construction, must also be held responsible for “hiring such a supervisor in the first place.” 

Daniel Légère, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, echoed the call for action against the company. 

“The evidence already accepted in court demonstrates that the company employed a supervisor who was not sufficiently trained on critical health and safety issues,” Légère said in a statement. “The company’s role in this tragedy has not been resolved and we expect a vigorous prosecution on the criminal negligence charge.”

Springhill Construction’s criminal negligence trial is expected to begin on January 8, 2024.

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