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Circumstances of the Offence
We run a seasonal, event-based business called ScreamWorks and are only open for less than two weeks a year. Every season, we add new activities and in 2013, we added a zombie paintball shooting game. Zombie paintball is a fast growing trend in the industry and we felt it was a good fit for our event. As we had never had paintball before, we purchased a system from a paintball company that claimed it had built many of these systems in the past. There were numerous American companies that provided systems, but we wanted to keep it Canadian and that limited our choices.
This system was a series of joined paintball guns all hooked up through a single air pressure system. When it was “on”, the system was charged (full of pressurized air) and customers could shoot at the zombies. Near the end of the ride, the operator would turn off the system and allow customers to continue shooting to bleed the guns of any pressure. At this point, a staff member would play the role of a hero, run out and thank the players for saving his/her life.
As this was a new activity for us, we had our employees run it for an entire weekend to practice and make sure everything went according to plan before we allowed customers on it.
On October 12th, 2013 our manager placed a new employee in that area. Tragically, unlike all our practice runs, the system still had some air pressure in the lines even though it was shut off. The operator asked the customers to keep shooting the guns to release the pressure, but did not watch close enough to ensure that the pressure was completely depleted. The operator then instructed all customers to stop shooting and raise their hands. Our employee ran out to play the hero and even though customers were told to take their hands off the guns, one customer shot at him and hit him in the eye. He lost his eye.
Measures Taken After the Offence
Immediately after the incident, we removed all staff who could be in the line of fire from paintballs. Then within a couple days, we found a better valve system that allowed the air to release automatically once the system was shut off. We did not know this other system existed, although the manufacturer could have used it to begin with. We also improved our logging of training systems and restated to all our staff the importance of following our hiring and training procedures. We have also since created a safety and security position for our event to be in charge of making sure employees are trained and following our safety guidelines.
Lessons Learned from the Offence
Dot your Is and cross your Ts…even if you think you’ve done all you can, go back and check to make sure there are no holes in your systems. Although we did have systems in place, there were obviously holes and this experience has opened our eyes. We are much more diligent with our training and paperwork. As we are a seasonal, event-based business, the majority of our employees are short-term. So it is very important for us to properly train our employees and retrain the ones who have been with us in the past.
Finally, we learned that we need to better check the capabilities of independent contractors. We do much more thorough checks on potential suppliers to make sure that they have the experience and skills necessary to build safe products. Through this incident, we found that the manufacturer had never built a system like the one they sold us, even though the company told us they had done so many times before. Once the incident occurred, we quickly sourced and installed a better system than that supplied by the manufacturer. We expected the manufacturer to have known and supplied a better system in the first place.
I am very hurt by this tragic event. It saddens me to think of the pain and suffering our employee has had to endure and the hardships he will face in the future as a result of this tragedy. I now have a much better awareness of the importance of clear training and safety procedures and I hope that sharing this experience can help prevent other employers from making the mistakes we made.
On July 25th, 2017 Screamworks Inc. pled guilty to charges under the Alberta OHS Code Section 12(d) –Failing to operate equipment according to manufacturer’s specifications. The resulting sentence to Screamworks Inc. was a fine of $50,001.00 plus an 18 months’ Corporate Probation.