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Walmart, supervisor charged over death of young worker

By Mari-Len De Guzman
| www.cos-mag.com

WorkSafeNB has laid charges under New Brunswick's Occupational Health and Safety Act against Walmart and one of its supervisors over the electrocution and subsequent death of a 17-year-old employee at a store in Grand Falls, N.B., early this year.

On January 5, 2011 at approximately 8:30 p.m., 17-year-old Patrick Desjardins died from an electrical shock he received while using a floor buffer that had been plugged into a standard 110-volt power source. He was working on a wet floor at the Wal-Mart store in Grand Falls.

Following the incident, WorkSafeNB investigators undertook an extensive and lengthy investigation looking beyond the obvious causes of the incident to identify the underlying causes, according to a statement from WorkSafeNB. This is standard practice in all serious workplace accidents and fatalities.

As a result of the investigation, WorkSafeNB issued several orders against Wal-Mart. These include: an order to take all reasonable precautions to protect its employees; to ensure that electrical equipment is suitable for its intended use and that it is installed, maintained, modified and operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications; and, to ensure that a tool is of good quality, is inspected, maintained and repaired by a competent person and is stored in a proper area. The employer complied with all orders issued.

WorkSafeNB staff also determined that Wal-Mart and a member of its staff failed to comply with some key provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations. As such, WorkSafeNB has laid charges against Wal-Mart. These charges are for various alleged breaches of the OHS Act and Regulations and specifically allege that Wal-Mart:

  • Failed to ensure the health and safety of employees by allowing the use of an inappropriate floor polisher and a faulty extension cord in the garage area;
  • Failed to ensure that employees complied with specific requirements when using a tool;
  • Failed to ensure that the garage was inspected by the employer at least once a month to identify any risks to the health and safety of the employees;
  • Failed to ensure that a tool (a floor polisher) was inspected before use and repaired or replaced if necessary and was maintained in proper working condition;
  • Failed to ensure that employees were instructed to use a tool (a floor polisher) only for the specific purpose for which it was designed;
  • Failed to ensure that an electric power-operated hand tool (a floor polisher) is tested for the effectiveness of the double insulation or bonding to ground before each use by a continuity tester or ground fault circuit interrupter; and,
  • Failed to ensure that electrical equipment is suitable for its use and that it is maintained and modified in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications by permitting the use of a faulty extension cord in the garage area of the store.

Additionally, WorkSafeNB laid charges against a supervisor who did not meet the standards required of a person in that position as set out in the OHS Act. These charges allege that the supervisor:

  • Failed to ensure the health and safety of employees by allowing the use of an inappropriate floor polisher and a faulty extension cord in the garage area, and
  • Failed to acquaint an employee with any hazards in connection with the use of a tool or machine, namely a floor polisher.

Reacting to the charges, Walmart said in a statement, "first and foremost, our deepest thoughts remain with Patrick Desjardins and his family."

The company said it has co-operated fully with the investigation and "is taking every opportunity to understand and investigate this incident so that similar incidents can be prevented in the future."

"The health and safety of our (employees) is — and always will be — a top priority for Walmart Canada. We direct significant time, energy and resources to the development of health and safety policies and training to support accident prevention," the retail giant said.

Because this matter is now before the courts, WorkSafeNB is unable to provide further information. All court proceedings are open to the public.

--- with files from The Canadian Press

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