December 23, 2019 10:00 A.M.
Convicted: Ruggieri Brothers Automotive Ltd., 66 Fernstaff Court, Concord (Vaughan), Ontario.
Location: The company’s facility on Fernstaff Court.
Description of Offence: A worker was performing a safety inspection on a dump truck and found a deficiency in one of the air bag shock absorbers (air spring). The worker was fatally injured while installing a replacement air spring.
Date of Offence: May 25, 2018.
Date of Conviction: December 20, 2019.
- Following a guilty plea, Ruggieri Brothers was fined $85,000 in provincial offences court in Newmarket by Justice of the Peace Rhonda Shousterman; Crown Counsel Wes Wilson.
- The court also imposed a 25-per-cent victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act. The surcharge is credited to a special provincial government fund to assist victims of crime.
- Ruggieri Brothers Automotive Ltd. operates a shop in the City of Vaughan that provides general repair and maintenance services for industrial and commercial trucks and cranes.
- A worker was assigned to do a safety inspection on a dump truck. One of the deficiencies was that the rear driver side air bag shock absorber (or air spring) was leaking air. The air spring serves as a component of the truck’s suspension system.
- On May 25, 2018 a replacement air spring was provided to the worker for installation.
- The installation of an air spring involves partially elevating the box of the dump truck and blocking it. The spring has a rigid plastic base of composite nylon and fiberglass that has to be bolted to a mounting plate on the axle of the truck. The bellows of the deflated bag then needs to be stretched upward to be bolted to a mounting plate at the bottom of the box frame. The task can be done by hand; however, if the person installing the spring does not have sufficient strength, compressed air may be used to assist.
- The bag has a hole for the attachment of a hose to the truck’s air supply, which then maintains the air pressure in the bag so it can act as a shock absorber. The practice of the other company employees was to introduce a nozzle that was connected to the shop air compressor into this hole in the bag to force air into the bag to assist in stretching it upward to attach to the frame.
- The worker connected the spring’s plastic base to the bottom mounting plate, then attached a coupler to the air hole in the bag and connected the shop air compressor to the coupler.
- While inflating the bag with compressed air, the plastic base exploded, sending shards of shrapnel flying in all directions. The worker was struck by many of the projectiles, suffering extensive injuries. The worker was transported to hospital and pronounced dead.
- Unlike the use of the nozzle, which can be backed off easily to allow air pressure release, the mechanical attachment of the compressed air to the coupler allowed the bag to be fully pressurized. The air compressor in the shop allowed full compression at 150 PSI. The gauge on the compressor read 149 PSI when examined by the (then) Ministry of Labour. However, the maximum internal air pressure capacity of the shock absorber bag was 100 PSI, as confirmed in a warning label on the bag. Its operating pressure when connected to the truck’s air supply was 80 PSI.
- Ontario’s trades are regulated and it requires those working in the motive power sector (such as automotive service technicians and truck and coach technicians) to participate in mandatory training that includes apprenticeships. Although Ruggieri Brothers was registered with the (former) Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development’s apprenticeship program, it has not been active with the program since 1991. Ruggieri Brothers employed the worker as a mechanic but failed to ensure that the worker was a licensed mechanic or a registered apprentice, despite principals of the company referring to him as an “apprentice mechanic.”
- While the Ruggieri Brothers principals reported that a worker “would have” been shown how to do the installation of the air spring safely, they were unable to provide any documentation of training to support this, nor was there any specific recollection of this having been done. There was no standard operating procedure in place setting out the safe practice in performing this task.
- The company pleaded guilty to failing as an employer to provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the safety of the worker, contrary to section 25(2)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Specifically, the accused failed to provide sufficient information and/or instruction and/or supervision to the worker regarding a safe method of installing a shock-absorbing air bag on a dump truck.