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Model used at inquest to illustrate tragic events (VIDEO)

Coroner's jury makes no recommendations following two-day inquest, determining Michael Pridham's death was accidental

A coroner’s jury made no recommendations for systemic or other changes following an inquest into the 2018 workplace death of Michael Pridham.

The 35-year-old father of two died at Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital in Orillia on Dec. 21, 2018 from injuries sustained at a work site in Oro-Medonte Township.

In its fact-finding mission following a two-day inquest, led by coroner Dr. Geoffrey Bond, the jury was to determine who, what, where, when and by what means Pridham died.

The six jury members determined his death was an accident resulting from a blunt-force injury to the head.

After hearing evidence from four witnesses, the jury opted not to suggest any recommendations.

Earlier Tuesday, Altaf Gafoor, an engineering consultant with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development of Ontario, used a K'Nex toy model he created of the stone crusher outfitted with a conveyor system that was at the centre of the inquest to help explain his findings.

Gafoor said his goal was to figure out whether a physical or stability failure in the machine resulted in Pridham’s death.

“It was in an unstable state and it collapsed onto the worker,” he concluded, referring to his 19-page report. “It wasn’t a strength failure, but a stability failure.”

The inquest had earlier heard a small crew was packing up the aging stone crusher and its stackers, or conveyers, were placed under the crusher to be shipped off for auction. The employer, Priestly Demolition, had acquired the machinery when it purchased the large, open gravel pit north of Barrie.

Following a safety meeting, the crew worked to fold up the two stackers, clean them off and get the equipment ready to transport. One person was at the top of the stone crusher using a hand crank and another person was located at a mini excavator while Pridham, who was the site supervisor, and another worker stood about six feet away.

When the right side of the machinery unexpectedly shifted and a cable loosened on one side, Pridham stepped forward to give it a nudge. The bottom portion of the conveyor then collapsed onto him.

Pridham died from a blunt-force injury to the head, which resulted in skull fractures and severe brain injury. There was also bleeding in the pharynx and lungs.

Gafoor said he found there was “no observable means” of adjusting that cable, leading to a critical instability of the beam to which it was attached. And once that section of the conveyor reached a certain height, gravity pulled it down.

Gafoor said his searches failed to locate either the serial number of the rock crusher, determined to be more than 30 years old, or the operator's manual. He was therefore unable to determine the manufacturer’s recommended operating procedures and instructions.

The coroner’s counsel suggested the jury consider recommending a mandatory hazard alert that a fatality has occurred and the related circumstances to others in the construction industry.

“The more information people have, the more awareness people have … the better equipped they will be to do their jobs,” said coroner’s counsel Jennifer Armenise.

The lawyers for the provincial labour ministry and the employer suggested no recommendations were necessary in this case. 

“Not every inquest lends itself to recommendations,” said Judith Parker, counsel for the labour ministry, describing Pridham’s death as a tragedy that had a devastating impact.

Parker said she heard no evidence of a gap in the health and safety system in the workplace. In fact, a risk assessment was conducted that morning to determine how to safely pack up the crusher for shipping.

Given the age of the machine, a similar scenario is not likely to recur, she added.

“Everything points to an accident in the truest sense of the word,” added Priestly Demolition lawyer Michael Fraleigh. “This, in our submission, was a tragedy. ...  A piece of equipment didn’t do what was expected.”

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About the Author: Marg. Bruineman

Marg. Bruineman is an award-winning journalist who focuses on human interest stories
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