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No specific program to identify hazardous material coming into AIM Saint John, says company at coroner’s inquest

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The second day of a coroner’s inquest into the death of a worker at American Iron and Metal in Saint John, N.B., heard details about company safety measures on Tuesday, and specifically how dangerous materials are screened.

Darrell Richards died on July 1, 2022 after suffering injuries at the AIM scrapyard in Port Saint John the previous day. He was 60 years old.

Richards was attempting to remove material from a calender roll – a piece of equipment used in the production of paper – which had been sent to AIM in Saint John to be dismantled for scrap.

The inquest’s first day heard testimony that warnings and risks about calender rolls weren’t communicated to AIM workers in Saint John beforehand.

Stephanie Spinney, a health and safety advisor at AIM, testified there was no specific program in 2022 to identify hazardous materials at its Port Saint John facility. Spinney said that’s still the case today.

After Richards’ death, Spinney said she developed a “hazard identification program” for all incoming products, but said support was lacking “above me” to have it implemented.

“It was too robust,” said Spinney. “They didn’t want to do it.”

Spinney said Ryan Cyr, the company’s director of operations, said if everything coming onto the yard was checked, “we wouldn’t have a job.”

When asked if she believed the company was familiar with potentially hazardous materials coming onto its yard, Spinney said “in general, yes.”

Spinney said the biggest change in AIM’s safety culture since Richards’ death was the addition of an on-site safety advisor. Spinney said the advisor was part of a program where workers were given a card with information tailored to their particular duties each day, identifying and mitigating hazards.

Aim regional vp says company used 'deduction guide'

Michael Cormier, AIM’s vice-president for Atlantic Canada and Maine, said the company did not have any specific program to screen hazardous material arriving at its scrap yard.

Instead, Cormier said the company used a “deduction guide” of items to keep off the yard, including propane tanks, vehicle batteries, and sandblasting material.

Since Richards’ death, Cormier said AIM made changes to how scrap materials are purchased, offloaded, and processed.

“A lot of that wasn’t documented, wasn’t updated,” said Cormier.

Cormier said there was previously no assessment for hazards in scrap material being purchased, but that had since changed.

Cormier said inspectors have received “more robust” training to spot threats, compared to 2022.

 “Anything out of the norm would be a red flag up,” said Cormier.

Doctor: injuries not survivable

A doctor who performed emergency surgery on Darrell Richards also testified Tuesday.

Dr. Sharon Chiu said the laceration to Richards’ left groin area was so severe it demanded an “all hands on board” approach as soon as he arrived at the Saint John Regional Hospital by ambulance.

Dr. Chiu said Richards lost all vitals, but spontaneous circulation returned after 40 minutes of CPR.

Dr. Chiu was asked if she believed the magnitude of Richards’ injuries were survivable.

“I don’t think so,” said Dr. Chiu. “Not in 2022, not in 2024.”

Chiu said it was miraculous Richards was able to hang on for as long as he did after the incident, and the efforts of yard workers and first responders to try and stop the severe bleeding was critical in giving him more time.

Darrell Richards died on July 1, 2022 at 2:05 a.m.

Family members of Richards, along with a lawyer for AIM, have been attending the inquest with the opportunity to forward questions to prosecutors.

At the conclusion of the inquest, deputy chief coroner Michael Johnston and a jury of five will have the opportunity to make preventative recommendations for any similar circumstances.

The inquest will continue on Wednesday at the Saint John Law Courts.

 For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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