Chatham greenhouse slapped with $90K fine for 2020 industrial accident

Truly Green Farms. January 6, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

A Chatham greenhouse where a young woman was critically injured in an industrial accident almost two years ago has been fined nearly $90,000 after pleading guilty to charges contrary to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Crown Attorney Judy Chan said Truly Green failed to provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker and jeopardized the health and safety of the worker.

Natasha Smids of Chatham, now 22 years old, was seriously hurt at Truly Green on Bloomfield Road on January 6, 2020 while working as a part-time employee. Chan read a statement of claim in Provincial Offences Court in Blenheim on Wednesday saying Smids and four co-workers were instructed to clean large tanks in the irrigation room and her hair and clothing got caught in a rotating shaft at the top of a tank. Chan said power to the rotating shaft was not locked out and the shaft was rotating while the cleaning was being done. She said as a result, Smids suffered serious and permanent injuries, including paralysis below the waist, when she leaned to clean the top of the tank and was pulled in to the shaft.

“Miss Smids usually worked in the pack house and never previously worked in the irrigation room,” said Chan. “She was not provided with any written instructions for the cleaning of the tanks and no specific procedures were in place or communicated to the workers for this task.”

The 2,500 gallon tanks provide liquid fertilizer to the tomato growing operation. The rotating shaft is connected to paddles inside the tanks that stir the fertilizer.

Defence lawyer Andrew Murray agreed to the details in the statement of claim. Murray also said Truly Green has no prior convictions and pleaded guilty early.

The court acknowledged the early plea as it issued the fine.

Murray said Truly Green didn’t want to drag out the case for the benefit of everyone involved.

“This company, they were very mindful of the benefit to their workforce, to this injured worker Natasha Smids, to the community, and to the court that a guilty plea would spare resources, time, emotional trauma and of course the delay associated with a trial,” said Murray.

Truly Green has six months to pay the $90,000 fine.

Murray told the court the work force at Truly Green is very close-knit where the workers are considered family. He also said Truly Green still keeps in touch with Smids and her former co-workers have lunch with her from time to time.

The company employs 200 workers made up of full-time, part-time, and temporary foreign workers.

The Ministry of Labour issued six work orders to Truly Green in 2020.

Smids had to be airlifted to London Health Science Centre and was in an induced coma for several days. She also did her rehabilitation at Parkwood Institute in London.

Smids was a rugby player and graduated from Ursuline College in 2018. She also studied at the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus.