Saskatchewan company fined more than $400,000 in worker’s death

Fertilizer company receives maximum fine for second time after worker killed in potash mine despite earlier warnings

A Saskatchewan company must pay the maximum health and safety fine — more than $400,000 — after being found responsible for the death of a worker in 2008.

In September 2008, the Saskatoon-based fertilizer company PotashCorp cut a ledge into a floor ramp at a potash mine. The ledge wasn’t marked and two workers almost drove their jeep over the ramp. After one wheel went over, the workers were able to reverse the jeep. However, the they didn’t report the danger and the ramp remained unmarked.

On the next shift, Robert Tkach, 60, drove his jeep over the ledge. Tkach was not wearing a seatbelt and was thrown from the jeep, which then rolled and landed on him, killing him.

A government inspection found the accident was caused by a failure to properly mark hazards, no seatbelts and inadequate training. PotashCorp and one of its mining supervisors were charged with a total of six counts of violating the Saskatchewan Health and Safety Act for failing to provide safety and supervision.

During the trial, it was discovered PotashCorp had been warned six months before Tkach’s death to ensure hazards in the mine were clearly marked. The company had also been convicted for health and safety violations and received the maximum fine of $300,000 in 1998 after three workers fell into a vat of hot brine, killing two of them and seriously burning the third.

PotashCorp pleaded guilty and agreed to the maximum fine plus the maximum victim’s surcharge of $120,000 in exchange for the withdrawal of all but one of the charges.

Despite the maximum fine, Tkach’s widow expressed disappointment in the decision, saying the company and supervisor should have been convicted of the other charges as well, considering their failure to heed previous warnings and their previous conviction.

“My husband did not take risks. He said he never wanted to die underground,” Sylvia Tkach told the Saskatchewan News Network. “We wanted them to plead guilty to all five charges if they’re taking responsibility.”

PotashCorp said it had made “significant” changes to its health and safety procedures, including improved identification of hazards, better training and safer underground vehicles.

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