CEO of recycling plant says recent N.B. workplace deaths ‘just all bad luck’

Click to play video: 'Saint John AIM says workplace death not company responsibility'
Saint John AIM says workplace death not company responsibility
Following two workplace deaths in seven months, representatives at the Saint John AIM recycling facility are finally speaking out. While the company says it's mourning the losses, they don't believe they have any responsibility. Robert Lothian reports – Jul 19, 2022

The CEO of a New Brunswick recycling plant that has seen two workplace fatalities in the past seven months says the deaths are not his company’s responsibility, calling it “bad luck.”

“I don’t see what my facility could have done to prevent it,” Herb Black, the CEO of American Iron and Metal (AIM), told reporters on Tuesday in Saint John.

Read more: Worker dies after incident at Saint John AIM facility

Black said his company is mourning the losses but deflected blame, questioned the accuracy of news outlets, and took aim at politicians during the media-only event.

“Up until seven months ago, we’d never even have any discussions about anything here because there was nothing to discuss,” he said.

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In November 2021, an unnamed worker died after a crane operator sweeping out a truck trailer was unaware anyone was inside.

Black said the death was human error and was caused when the worker decided to exit the truck on the right-hand side, “which is completely blind.”

“If you would tell me that somebody’s going to crawl in the back of a trailer while it’s being unloaded and come out of a door because the other door is locked — it’s just unbelievable,” he said.

Black said that prior to this fatality, the company had never had an accident in over six decades unloading a truck, “so our procedures are very good.”

“We have unloaded over a million trucks like that and we have never, ever had any accidents. And when I say a million, I’m not exaggerating.”

Read more: Victim of Saint John, N.B. workplace accident remembered as a ‘brother’

Seven months later, in June of this year, AIM subcontractor Darrell Richards, 60, died following an incident at the facility.

According to Richards’ family, his death was the result of a leg laceration.

Darrell Richards, middle, sits with members of the band Ryan Drive. Submitted / Ryan Drive Band

“He was cutting a paper roll that had paper on it and as he made the second cut through, he had already made one complete cut, something caused the roll to decompress,” said his daughter-in-law Krista Collins, who was invited by the company to speak at the media availability.

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In the aftermath of Richards’ death, elected officials called for change at the facility.

But Collins told reporters on Tuesday that is not what the family wants, and added that social media has spurred false information.

“So I would just ask that until the investigations complete, let WorkSafe New Brunswick do their job and stop trying to be a voice for a man you didn’t know,” she said.

Krista Collins, the daughter-in-law of Darrell Richards, speaks at the media availability. Robert Lothian/Global News

That WorkSafeNB investigation could take more than a year to complete.

Meanwhile, Black said his company intends to continue working with investigators and consider any recommendations to mitigate future risks.

“Listen, I’m not God, I only have the experience I’ve accumulated over 62 years (in business),” he said.

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“I’m 78 years old. I’m a father, I’m a grandfather, I have grandchildren, I have children. I have family just like these people who died and I feel for them and my people, the people who work with me, are like my fingers. They are all precious to me.”

Plant’s history of complaints, concern from politicians

AIM sits on federal property and has a 40-year lease with the Port of Saint John, which was signed in 2002.

While the federal government is the landowner, the province is responsible for issuing and maintaining the operating licence. Typically, renewals happen every six months.

In recent years, there have been complaints about excessive noise, explosions and environmental issues concerning air and water quality.

Read more: ‘I no longer live at my house’ — Neighbours speak out over Saint John AIM recycling plant

There have been calls for the company’s licence to be suspended, and the province has stepped in previously and suspended the licence temporarily.

After the two deaths, Liberal MP Wayne Long once again called on the province to suspend the company’s operating licence.

“To me, that’s a breaking straw,” he told Global News on July 7.

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“I’m not satisfied that workers are safe there. I’m not satisfied the community is safe.”

But Black fired back at Long on Tuesday.

“How many times do you think the MP has shown up? Never!” said Black.

“If he’s so curious and he’s so worried about the people and worried about this or worried about that, why not go visit?”

— with a file from Silas Brown

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