A Dawson City-area placer mine and one of its owners have been ordered to pay $92,000 for charges related to the 2021 death of an employee, killed when the bulldozer he was driving slipped off an icy road and fell down two slopes.
Yukon territorial court judge John Phelps sentenced Stuart Placers Ltd. and Roger Stuart Thursday, largely agreeing with the Crown's position that higher fines were warranted as safety equipment that could have prevented the situation hadn't been installed on the bulldozer.
"Employee safety must always be paramount to convenience," Phelps said.
The company and Stuart pleaded guilty to two counts each under the territorial Occupational Health and Safety Act last month. The charges were laid following the death of 41-year-old Richard Cull on Aug. 23, 2021, who had been driving a newly-purchased bulldozer from the highway to the mine down a road known as the "switchbacks" when the machine hit a patch of ice.
Key pieces of safety equipment, including a mandatory rollover protective structure and ice cleats, were removed from the bulldozer before it was shipped to the Yukon. None of it was reinstalled before Cull drove the bulldozer, despite much of the equipment already being at the Stuart Placers shop.
Phelps fined the company $10,000 plus a 15 per cent victim surcharge for the charge of failing to take all reasonable precautions to prevent an occupational injury, and also ordered it to make a $46,000-donation to Northern Safety Network Yukon for not having a rollover protective structure on the bulldozer before putting it into service.
Stuart, meanwhile, was fined $5,000 plus the victim surcharge for failing to ensure Cull was performing work without undue risk, and must also make a $28,750 donation to the safety network for allowing a worker to operate unsafe equipment.
Both are also subject to six months' probation.
The Crown stayed six other charges against the company and Stuart.
'The danger was foreseeable'
In sentencing submissions, the Crown had requested the company and Stuart be fined a total of $115,000, while the defence argued a $40,000 fine was adequate.
Phelps, in his sentencing reasons, said determining an appropriate penalty had been "difficult."
Stuart has shown genuine remorse and taken responsibility for the situation, Phelps noted, including spending five days rerouting the switchbacks after Cull's death and entering guilty pleas early in the court process. He also acknowledged a letter submitted by Cull's daughter, in which she wrote that Stuart, who viewed Cull like a brother, was likely hurting as much as her and that her father wouldn't want him to suffer more.
However, Phelps said there was a high degree of gravity, risk and fault in the case — Cull lost his life, and the bulldozer was illegal to operate without the rollover protective structure.
(Bulldozers weighing more than 700 kg must have the structure installed before operation; the bulldozer Cull drove weighed 50,000 kg.)
Stuart knew the bulldozer didn't have adequate safety equipment installed on it, Phelps continued, and was also aware of the icy patches on the switchbacks, having driven up the road with Cull earlier in the day.
"The danger was foreseeable," Phelps said.
It appeared the equipment wasn't installed not because of cost, Phelps found, but because of "convenience." The rollover protective structure in particular was already at the mine site, Phelps noted, and Stuart himself had said it wouldn't have been difficult to get it to the top of the switchbacks.
Stuart had also said installing the structure would have taken "10 minutes," which Phelps said was likely an exaggeration but still spoke to how easily it could have been done.
A message needed to be sent to employers, Phelps said, that convenience cannot take priority over keeping employees safe.