A calender roll with more than 12,000 pounds of denim sheets is seen after it ruptured June 30, 2022, resulting in the death of contractor Darrell Richards.WORKSAFENB/SUBMITTED

An American Iron & Metal employee at its Oakland, Maine, yard with 20 years experience handling calender rolls told an investigator he wouldn’t have let the 54,000-pound cylinders of steel and pressurized cotton leave the yard if it were up to him.

But the rolls ended up in Saint John without instructions on how to dismantle them, and that’s how Darrell Richards, 60, a jack-of-all-trades contractor ended up on top of one June 30, 2022, with a circular saw when it ruptured upwards and fatally wounding his groin, a coroner’s inquest heard.

A five-person jury heard from 14 witnesses Monday and Tuesday about the events of June 30, when Richards, 60, was injured while cutting through the roll, dying in hospital just after 2 a.m. the next day.

In February, AIM was ordered to pay $107,000 into a bursary fund in Richards’s name after pleading guilty to an Occupational Health and Safety Act charge of failing to take every reasonable precaution to ensure health and safety by failing to communicate the risks of the calender roll, used as part of the paper making process.

WorkSafeNB investigations manager Michel Cyr told the jury Monday that part of the challenge of the investigation was to “figure out” the calender rolls themselves, which consist of a solid metal spool lined with 13,000 to 15,000 pounds of cotton denim sheets, which are compressed down under as much as 2,600 tons of pressure. Manufacturers Andritz North America say the rolls should be returned for recycling, with a proprietary process using a lathe to strip away layers of sheets, Cyr said.

On Tuesday, the jury heard a recording of Cyr’s interviews with Verne “Joe” Reynolds, who was the main buyer for the Oakland, Maine, yard at the time of the incident.

Reynolds, who joined AIM in 2016, said he’d dealt with the rolls for 20 years, and told Cyr the “best method” of dealing with the roll was to use a shear attachment to an excavator to gradually cut through the material until the pressure releases, or using a torch to burn away material, though that causes lots of smoke.

He said the rolls are “hit and miss,” that sometimes it just pops open but there is “always that chance” that the roll pops open, saying he’s seen splinters shoot 50 feet into the air.

The rolls were acquired by a scrap dealer known as United Buyers from a mill owned by ND Paper, Cyr said Monday. Falk, who is based out of North Carolina and testified Tuesday by video, said they sold the rolls as part of a bulk load after decommissioning machinery at the firm’s Rumford, Maine, mill.

He said that the mill had a policy to only sell the rolls to a buyer who demonstrates they knew how to handle them. Falk said the rolls don’t have tags or warnings, and look similar to a steel roll with the same purpose.

The United Buyers representative described the shear process to Falk, with Reynolds saying he provided the description but wouldn’t sign off on a statement composed by the buyer. Falk said he didn’t know the rolls were going to be resold, and said they no longer use that buyer.

AIM’s Oakland yard was a smaller facility, and sent material to Saint John daily, Reynolds told Cyr. He said he never personally saw the rolls, and his preference would have been to handle them himself.

“In my opinion, they never should have went to Saint John, it wasn’t my call,” said Reynolds, who said he had been regional manager up until that January. He said that “when I was told to ship them, I let them guys know about them” in a phone conversation with a manager in Saint John.

Cyr said special procedures were supposed to be communicated by email, which “did not happen.” He said AIM-NB had determined there was “no risk” on June 29, because they believed the material to be cardboard.

Adam Wallace, then a production supervisor in Saint John, said Tuesday that the rolls sat for about three months, and that there was no contact from Maine regarding them. He said loads would usually come with a bill of lading describing their weight labelled as scrap.

Wallace said supervisors were “looking at ways to remove the foreign material” so the metal core could be cut down and shipped. Wesley Pratt, also a production supervisor at the yard, said Monday he had used a hammer drill to no effect. Cyr said Richards cut it all the way across once with a rented circular saw, also to no effect.

Pratt said Richards was a “leader to a lot of people on that site” who would look out for others and was one of the “safest guys I ever met.” Richards was said to have experience working at a mill and told Wallace he could have the roll cleaned up in 48 hours. Wallace said Richards had never dismantled a roll at the AIM site.

Justin Richards, an excavator operator, testified that Darrell Richards, his cousin, approached him to help. Justin Richards testified to lifting the roll as high as possible and dropping it five or six times without the denim releasing.

Cyr said Darrell Richards was alone when he hit a lock holding the pressure in place, leading to a “release of energy,” and played surveillance video that showed the moment of the accident from a distance, with sheets of denim shooting in the air.

Justin Richards, who was emotional on the witness stand, said he had gone on with his day, until he saw something that looked like a “flock of birds” near where his cousin had been working.

William McLeod, an inspector for incoming scrap trucks, said he drove over after hearing Justin Richards say on the radio, “Does anyone have eyes on Darrell?” McLeod said he found him wounded, awake and trying to get up, and held him in place, tearing off his own shirt to plug Richards’ wound.

Paramedic Norma Hicks said he became unresponsive on the way to the hospital. Dr. Sharon Chiu, a surgeon at Saint John Regional Hospital, described the process of trying to save Richards, saying the packing of the wound at the site kept Richards alive long enough to get to the operating room, but he was losing blood too fast and too many blood vessels were severed to tie up.

Chiu said the team used 50 units of red blood cells but Richards never stabilized, and said his injuries were “not survivable” then or now.

Community coroner Fred Fearon said after an autopsy, the cause of death was determined to be hypovolemic shock, or organ damage from loss of blood, at 2:05 a.m.

Wallace testified that after about a week, Reynolds called to express his condolences as well as his concern that the rolls were dangerous and needed special handling.

“I wish you would have told us this in advance,” Wallace said he replied to Reynolds.

WorkSafeNB issued a stop-work order, and the rolls are still at the scrapyard, under a blast cover, Cyr said.

Pratt said Monday the safety procedure has “increased tenfold” at the site in the past few years, and there is now a team whose job it is to determine the safety procedures for special items like the rolls.

The inquest continues Wednesday.

By Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 05, 2024 at 09:26

This item reprinted with permission from   Telegraph-Journal   Saint John, New Brunswick
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