On July 15, 2015, diver Luke Seabrook died while doing what Nova Scotia Power said was “routine” maintenance work at the Annapolis Power Generation Station.
Seabrook, who was 39 years old and a Dartmouth resident, became entangled in his diving gear. Seabrook “had been working underwater for about an hour and a half when he ran into trouble,” reported the Digby Courier. “He was wearing some high tech equipment at the time, including a video camera that was transmitting to the surface, quickly alerting the surface crew that there was a problem.”
After an investigation by the provincial Department of Labour, Paul’s Diving Services pleaded guilty to two violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
On October 26, 2017, Judge William Digby accepted the guilty pleas and ordered Paul’s Diving to pay a fine of $34,000 and to hold a series of safety presentations.
Specifically, the company was convicted of failing to have a written dive plan in place and failing to ensure the dive was not conducted in hazardous water flow conditions.
But Paul’s Diving is now appealing those convictions, arguing that owner Greg Paul made the guilty pleas without knowledge that the Crown’s expert witness did not disclose a conflict of interest.
The crown’s expert witness was David Geddes. Geddes this year was appointed president of the Canadian Association of Diving Contractors. “In his ‘real life,’ as a consultant to the industry, he offers services such as Diving Assurance Audits / Workplace Health and Safety Audits / Dive Site Audits (CSA, IMCA) / SMS Audits and Development/ Compliance Management / and DCBC Dive Supervisors Training,” wrote the CADC when announcing Geddes’ appointment.
Geddes wrote an investigative report for the Department of Labour that examined the causes of Seabrook’s death; that report was the basis of the charges against Paul’s Diving.
At issue, says Greg Paul in an affidavit filed with the court, is that Geddes had trained Paul himself as a dive supervisor, and Geddes had also trained Steve Andrews, the dive supervisor overseeing the Annapolis Power Generation Station maintenance job when Seabrook died.
Geddes’ report, which was also filed with the court, noted that the “four man dive crew [at the site of Seabrook’s death] was comprised of graduates from three well known and respected … accredited dive schools,” but failed to mention that Geddes was the instructor at the schools.
When he learned that Geddes had authored the report, “it became clear to me that the training and background of divers and dive supervisors of ours [i.e., of Paul’s Diving] would be directly relevant to any objective investigation into the accident and the charges,” writes Paul in the affidavit.
Paul says that he was trained by Geddes in 2008. At that time, Paul was working for RMI Diving Services, a Halifax firm. The training he received from Geddes, claims Paul, included instructions on how to create dive plans. The “dive plan form” Geddes provided was used by “everybody” at RMI, says Paul, and when Paul started his own firm he modified that form.
Paul goes on to say he doesn’t know what training Steve Andrews received from Geddes, but Andrews never objected to the dive plan form that Paul’s Diving routinely used — that is, the form that Paul had received from Geddes and subsequently modified.
The form was also submitted to the court. It appears to show no expectation that the dive plan would be a long prose narrative, but rather it would simply consist of bullet points to be checked off.
The gist of Paul’s appeal is that in his report, Geddes faulted the supervision of Seabrook’s fatal dive in part because there was an inadequate dive plan in place, but the process used to supervise the dive was a process Geddes had taught the men who supervised Seabrook’s dive.
“It appeared by fresh evidence subsequent to conviction that the expert was not impartial, independent or unbiased and his report not admissible,” writes lawyer Blair Mitchell in an application to the court on behalf on the company. “A miscarriage of justice occurred.”
Paul’s Diving will appear at court on Friday to make the appeal motion and ask for a hearing date.
The allegations contained in the court documents have not been tested by a judge.