N.W.T. power corporation fined $200K following death of worker in 2021

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A sign for the Jackfish Lake generating station is seen in Yellowknife, on June 26.Emily Blake/The Canadian Press

The Northwest Territories Power Corporation has been fined $200,000 for contravening the territory’s Safety Act after a worker died from injuries he sustained at a Yellowknife power plant in 2021.

Michael Chinna, who was in the fourth year of his apprenticeship as a power systems electrician, was hit by falling ice outside an entrance at the Jackfish Lake diesel plant on March 5 that year. Another employee found him outside on the ground unconscious and bleeding from his ears, says an agreed statement of facts in the case.

Chinna, 39, was taken to hospital in Yellowknife then sent to Edmonton where he died in hospital on March 14.

An investigation by the Workers Safety and Compensation Commission of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut determined melted snow had fallen down a hole in an eavestrough at the diesel plant, causing ice to build up on the west side of the building.

A column of ice broke off and struck Chinna, who was wearing required protective equipment, including a hard hat and safety goggles. The ice hit him on the head and shoulder when he was exiting a door that did not have a protective canopy.

The commission found the power corporation failed to identify and address unsafe snow and ice hazards during its inspection process, did not repair the hole in the eavestrough and did not have experienced workers on site who might have warned of safety hazards posed by the block of ice.

It said the power corporation also lacked reporting and follow-up on overhead snow and ice, lacked safe work practices for overhead doors and did not follow up on past hazards as it recorded a similar case in 2014 when a worker was nearly struck by a falling block of ice.

In February 2022, the commission filed 11 charges under the Safety Act against the power corporation. It pleaded guilty to one charge in Territorial Court on Friday, while the remaining charges were stayed.

A joint sentencing submission indicates that since Chinna’s death, the power corporation has conducted daily inspections of potential ice hazards at its facilities and immediately removes any buildup of ice. It has also engaged safety consultants to review its ice hazard identification policies and procedures and has implemented a safe work practice for overhead doors.

In a victim impact statement filed with the court, Chinna’s sisters, Nancy, Kathy and Jill Chinna, describe him as “bright, intelligent, fun loving, mischievous and hard working.” They detailed struggling with sleepless nights, anger and grief after his death.

“It has been difficult to not feel angry and hurt over the past year and a half, particularly when we know it was 100 per cent preventable and foreseeable as snow and ice accumulates and falls from rooftops in the North,” the statement reads.

“Ever since we lost our only brother, the void has been unimaginable.”

In their statement, the sisters describe Michael Chinna’s “determined, joyful and mischievous and sometimes annoying presence with his huge, handsome and boyish smile and loud laughter that could echo throughout the room.”

“Michael should be here.”

Una Chinna also wrote a statement describing the pain of losing her son, who she said loved life and would call her daily to share his hopes, dreams and achievements.

“I want the Power Corporation of the N.W.T. to understand the enormity of what they have taken from Michael, my girls, myself and my grandchildren,” her statement says.

“We all loved Michael so much, he was the joy and the glue that held our family together. It is just beyond belief that he is gone forever. What I would give to hear him laugh or to get a hug from him or just hear him say ‘Mom.”’

The power corporation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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