HUMBOLDT — The City of Humboldt pleaded guilty in Humboldt Provincial Court on a charge stemming from the 2019 death of city public works wastewater supervisor Ian Irwin and was fined $133,000.
The court heard on Dec. 20 that back on Sept. 18, 2019, the 48-year-old was asked to help excavate where K&D Prime Time Drilling was working for a property owner in the business district to re-connect the property to city water services.
While excavating, a worker noticed a sewage smell and damage to the sewer line was detected from previous excavation.
The city was informed shortly before 1 p.m. that the sewer line needed repair. After determining the city would make the repair, Irwin assembled a work crew of three people, gathered materials at the city’s workshop, and returned to the site.
The trench was approximately 10 feet deep, eight feet wide and 20 feet long. Irwin and another employee entered and took turns shoveling around the sewer line to fully expose it when the trench collapsed about half an hour later at 3:12 p.m.
In the agreed statement of facts entered into court by the Crown and defence, the trench was described as “muddy, due to the sewer line leaking,” which presented a hazard. The trench was not equipped with a cage, proper cutback or shoring to prevent the soil from breaking free.
Prior to the collapse, a smaller amount of soil had broken away but it was not identified as “presenting as a larger risk for the workers.”
Witnesses in the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) investigation indicated that the temporary structures required by the Saskatchewan Employment Act weren’t consistently used in trenches by the city, and these concerns were raised with management during OHS committee meetings, but action wasn’t taken in changing the practice.
The court heard victim impact statements from Irwin’s family, with his two children in attendance, aged 12 and 14 years old. The testimonials highlighted his role as a husband, brother and father, a man who loved his job, gardening and teaching new things, and whose death continues to negatively impact his family.
The fine, which was agreed to in a joint submission, involved the city pleading guilty to one of the two charges it received under the OHS Regulations of the Saskatchewan Employment Act.
The charge was from Subsection 260, relating to an employer failing to ensure a worker in a trench more than 1.2 metres deep is protected from cave-ins through one or more specified methods including a temporary protective structure or cutting back the walls.
The City of Humboldt issued a statement after the court’s decision, calling Irwin a valuable and well-respected member of the city’s team of employees and that he continues to be missed by his co-workers.
“Losing a colleague and a friend is not something any employee or employer should undergo,” said Michael Behiel, Humboldt’s mayor. “I want to emphasize that any fine is not intended to put a monetary value on a life, and fines are not reflections of the tragic loss of life, or the pain and suffering endured by family and friends.”
In attendance at the trial from the city were Joe Day, Humboldt’s city manager; Mike Kwasnica, Humboldt’s director of protective services and the fire chief; and the city’s safety officer.
“The city has taken very significant steps to try to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” said the city’s attorney during the proceedings.
“The city has made significant efforts to enhance its safety protocol, engaged with external consultants to do an extensive review of the investigation, as part of the recommendations that came out of that and as part of the statement of actions the city created a brand new department – the protective services department.”
Other steps included consulting with professionals on the city’s safety protocol, and the creation of a safety officer position.