Supervisor found guilty of criminal negligence in drowning of worker

'Wanton and reckless disregard’ for safety of employee, says judge

Supervisor found guilty of criminal negligence in drowning of worker

A New Brunswick judge has found construction supervisor Jason King guilty of criminal negligence in the tragic 2018 death of his employee, Michael Henderson.

Court of King's Bench Justice Thomas Christie declared that King's actions exhibited "a wanton and reckless disregard" for Henderson's safety while working at a construction site in Fredericton's wastewater treatment plant, according to a CBC News report.

During the trial, which lasted three weeks and had a judge as the sole decision-maker, multiple witnesses, including King himself, testified. King was employed by Springhill Construction and held the position of supervisor for the project at the time of the incident. The court heard that the work involved the construction of a large concrete clarifier at the City of Fredericton's sewage plant.

The clarifier, a pool-like structure, had a hole in the middle connected to a horizontal pipe that extended to a nearby manhole. Prior to Henderson's tragic death, discussions took place regarding the use of a large inflatable plug to seal the pipe, with subsequent plans to fill the manhole with water to test its water-tightness.

On the morning of August 16, 2018, while cleaning the bottom of the hole, Henderson found himself in a life-threatening situation. Jason King had begun filling the manhole with water before noon that day, leaving it running while the workers took their lunch break. Henderson resumed work after lunch, and shortly thereafter, the plug slipped out of the pipe, trapping him in the hole as the water level rose above his head. It took several minutes for first responders to free Henderson, who had been submerged underwater.

Justice Christie meticulously examined the evidence and cited several missteps on King's part that led to the tragic outcome. The court heard that King had failed to fulfill several obligations to ensure the safety of Henderson and other workers during the water test. King's own testimony revealed that he had not read Springhill Construction's safety manuals or familiarized himself with his duties as a supervisor under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Moreover, Christie emphasized that King had neglected to identify the hole where Henderson was working as a confined space and had not taken the required safety precautions for such areas. The judge stated, "The most extensive plan Mr. King developed was that someone would be there to pull him out in the need for a rescue." Christie further noted that King had not informed Henderson about the leak test and the inherent risks involved while working in the hole with thousands of liters of water being held back by the plug.

Reacting to the verdict, Diane Henderson, Michael Henderson's mother, expressed her desire for workplace safety, saying, "Everybody's loved one should return from work." The courtroom gallery, where the Henderson family was seated, audibly exhaled a collective sigh of relief as the verdict was announced.

King, who displayed no emotional reaction during the delivery of the verdict, will be sentenced on September 11. The conviction carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Until his sentencing, King will remain free on the condition that he refrains from contacting Henderson's family.

This case serves as a reminder of the importance of adhering to safety protocols and upholding workers' rights in the workplace. The court's decision brings a measure of justice to Michael Henderson's grieving family, while reinforcing the responsibility that supervisors hold in ensuring the safety of their employees.

Learn more about the three worker rights under Canadian OHS laws and how they relate to health and safety training in the workplace