Nova Scotia Power, N.B. companies charged in drowning death of engineer

Nova Scotia Power is one of three companies facing numerous charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in connection with the 2020 workplace death of engineer Andrew Gnazdowsky in Sheet Harbour, N.S.

Gnazdowsky drowned on Oct. 16, 2020, while trying to retrieve a piece of floating surveying equipment that had malfunctioned in a reservoir at Nova Scotia Power’s hydroelectric system in Sheet Harbour.

According to a court document filed Monday by an investigator with the provincial Department of Labour, Nova Scotia Power, Gemtec Consulting Engineers and Scientists Ltd. of Fredericton and Brunswick Engineering and Consulting Inc. of Saint John are accused of several safety violations in connection with the incident.

The 26-year-old Gnazdowsky worked for Brunswick Engineering. He was helping a colleague conduct a bathymetric survey — a type of underwater mapping — using a piece of equipment that was controlled remotely, similar to a drone, and floated on the surface of the water. The pair had travelled from Saint John to collect data at the dam.

The document alleges Brunswick Engineering, a subcontractor at the site owned by Nova Scotia Power, failed to ensure a life jacket or personal flotation devices were being used, and failed to provide rescue equipment in a workplace where there was a risk of drowning, among other safety code violations. The company faces five charges in total.

The Marshall Falls reservoir is part of Nova Scotia Power’s hydro system in Sheet Harbour. ( Robert Short/CBC)

It alleges Gemtec Consulting Engineers and Scientists Ltd., the geotechnical engineering contractor hired by Nova Scotia Power, failed to review the safety plan for the reservoir with employees and failed to ensure the plan was adequate. It faces six charges in total.

Nova Scotia Power is facing five charges, including that it failed to ensure employees of Brunswick Engineering were wearing life jackets or that it had the required rescue equipment.

Responses from companies

A representative of Brunswick Engineering said in an email Tuesday the company did not have any comment.

Dave Purdue, vice-president of operations for Gemtec’s Atlantic west region, said the company would not be commenting while the matter is before the courts.

In a statement, Nova Scotia Power spokesperson Jacqueline Foster said the tragedy weighs heavily on the company.

“There is nothing more important to us than the safety of our employees, contractors and customers,” she wrote. “Safety is at the core of everything we do. As this matter is before the courts, we are unable to comment any further.”

Gnazdowsky’s sister, Nicole Gnazdowsky, has been vocal in the past about the about the quality and scope of the Department of Labour’s investigation. After speaking out, the province limited contact with her to monthly emails confirming its probe was ongoing.

Family reaction

Gnazdowsky said she has mixed feelings about the charges because she doesn’t see anything that will prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future.

“Breaches of contract are not what ultimately killed my brother. It was a power dam,” she told CBC News. “There’s no mention of dams and dam safety at all in here, and that’s kind of one of the main issues for me.”

Gnazdowsky said she’ll likely go ahead with a lawsuit against Nova Scotia’s Department of Justice, Department of Labour and the Medical Examiner Service.

“I was hoping that it wouldn’t come down to me to having to continue this fight, but seeing that list of charges it looks like I’ll probably have to keep pushing to get what really should happen here to happen,” she said.

Andrew and Nicole Gnazdowsky on a family vacation in France. She has been vocal about the quality of the investigation into her brother’s death. (Submitted by Nicole Gnazdowsky)

In a statement, the Labour Department said it sends its “deepest sympathies” to family and friends mourning Gnazdowsky’s loss.

“We know that waiting for this day has taken its toll,” it said. “The Department conducted a thorough and objective investigation into this workplace fatality, which resulted in charges being laid. As this is now before the courts, further inquiries should be directed to Public Prosecution Services.”

Nova Scotia Power’s 2018 Contractor Safety Program, which sets out standards for contractors and the employees who manage them, categorizes working on the water or with watercraft as a high-risk activity that requires a safety plan, a risk assessment and personal protective equipment. 

The program shows an example of a job hazard analysis checklist that says any work around the water involves communicating water flow information and boating safety precautions, with tasks assigned to either the contractor or a representative from the utility.

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