Vernon News

Inquest hears of chaos at mill after Lumby teen found caught in conveyor belt

Bradley Haslam was an avid hockey player and attended Charles Bloom Secondary.
Image Credit: Facebook

VERNON - A coroner’s inquest into the death of a Lumby teen began Monday with tearful testimony from the mill worker’s mother, who described him as kind, determined and full of life.

Bradley Haslam, 18, died June 15 after getting caught in a conveyer belt at Tolko’s planer mill in Lavington. The Charles Bloom Secondary student was on a graveyard clean-up shift. An inspection report by WorkSafe B.C. stated there weren't sufficient safeguards in place to prevent workers from getting in contact with the equipment. His family asked that he be referred to by his first name throughout the four-day inquest at the Vernon Courthouse.

Denise Wilson, Bradley’s mom, was the first of 21 witnesses to be called. She brought two large, framed photographs of her son; a portrait, and one that captured him playing his favourite sport: Hockey. The photographs will remain in the courtroom throughout the inquest. Through sobs, Wilson told the seven jurors about Bradley’s short life; how he’d fallen in love, been captain of his hockey team, and taught himself to ride a two-wheeler at the age of three.

“I was his number one fan,” Wilson said.

Like any 18-year-old on the cusp of graduating high school, Bradley’s plans for the future were fluid. He toyed with the idea of becoming an engineer, or traveling to Australia. Shortly before his death, he told his mom he wanted to work locally and stay in his hometown. It was Wilson who suggested he take up a job at the mill. The work would earn him cash, but not interfere with hockey. She said he was hard-working and careful.

“To be truthful, the one thing I do hope comes out of this (inquest) is that all the inconsiderate comments made by people toward my son are put to rest. First of all my son was not an irresponsible child that took short cuts. (He) wasn’t in a place where he shouldn’t have been. He always thought things through and wouldn’t take a chance that would jeopardize his life,” she said.

What we can expect to hear

Inquest counsel John Orr outlined the circumstances of Bradley’s death and what the jury can expect to hear over the next few days. He said Tolko employs a number of young workers to clean up the worksite on graveyard shifts. In most cases, all equipment is shut off, but some machines might be ‘locked off’ to prevent workers from getting too close, Orr said.

That night, Bradley was assigned to clean the area around the number three chipper, somewhere he’d worked before. That night, the conveyer belt was moving. The jury can expect to hear whether the machine should have been shut down, locked off, or off limits to workers.

Around 1:30 a.m., the clean-up superintendent noticed the belt had stopped moving. When he went to take a look, he found Bradley caught between the belt and the roller, Orr said. Tuesday morning, the jury will be taken on a site visit to better understand the workplace.

A chaotic night

The next two witnesses were Alana Hicik and Lisa Olszewski, with the B.C. Ambulance Service. Hicik was paged around 2 a.m. for a report of a cardiac arrest at the Lavington mill. When she arrived at roughly 2:10 a.m. mill workers directed them to the chipper area where Bradley was. Hicik said he’d already been extricated from the machine when they arrived. He wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. Later on, Hicik noticed bruising around his neck and upper body.

Olszewski described the mill as a chaotic scene. At least ten people were around Bradley, asking what they could do to help. Olszewski was impressed that employees had an AED ready and were administering CPR.

“They were doing a fantastic job,” Olszewski said.

When she and Hicik first arrived, staff told them Bradley was still entangled in the conveyer belt. She’s not sure how, but when they got to him, he was free of the equipment. Olszewski was told by an employee that he’d been caught between the rollers. A distraught superintendent said, ‘I told him not to run under there.’

Olszewski had a hard time identifying the patient. No one knew his name, not even the superintendent. Eventually, she got his last name off his hard hat, lying on the ground nearby.

Another challenge paramedics faced was contacting a physician at Vernon Jubilee Hospital. Part of the protocol in such an emergency is for paramedics to seek guidance from a physician on whether or not to transport a patient to hospital. Olszewski phoned three times and couldn’t reach a physician. No matter what the physician might have said, Olszewski had already made her mind up to transport Bradley to hospital. During the ambulance ride, paramedics only got one chance to shock Bradley with the Automated External Defibrillator device. At the hospital, Bradley’s skin began turning blue, and the doctor pronounced him dead.

While the protocol has since changed for contacting a physician (paramedics now phone a 1-800 number to reach a doctor) Olszewski said the process still takes a long time.

There are three main purposes of a coroner’s inquiry: to ascertain the identity of the deceased, as well as how, when, where and by what means he or she died; to make recommendations with the aim of preventing future loss of life in similar circumstances; and to satisfy the community that the death of one of its members will not be overlooked, concealed or ignored.

Legal counsel for Tolko Industries and Worksafe B.C., as well as representatives for United Steelworks, are in attendance. 

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

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