Company pleads guilty after employee loses three fingers

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Courtney St. Jean said she was initially disgusted by her hand

A lumber company has pleaded guilty to one Occupational Health and Safety charge after a young woman lost three fingers at work.

On Jan. 18 at the Morinville Provincial Court, Nelson Lumber Company Ltd., operating as Kilian Industries in Morinville, pleaded guilty to endangering a worker after the then 26-year-old lost her second, third and fourth finger on her left hand. The company was fined $95,000.

Nelson Lumber officials could not be reached for comment by press time.

On July 14, 2015, Courtney St. Jean of Legal was at work when her hand was caught in a saw and she had to be rushed to the hospital. After a surgery to reattach some of the fingers was unsuccessful, St. Jean was told she had lost her three middle fingers on her dominant hand, including the full knuckles where the fingers join the hand.

St. Jean said she was devastated by the news and her first reaction was that she would never be able to wear a wedding ring. She said that she was disgusted by her hand.

“It’s never going to be the same and every girl’s dream is to wear a wedding ring. I never will on my left hand. It’s just not possible,” St. Jean said.

At the time of the incident St. Jean was not supposed to be operating the machine.

The agreed statement of facts states that St. Jean was diagnosed with bilateral Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) placed her on moderate duties. At the time she was not able to lift more than five kilograms and was not able to do any pushing or pulling.

According to the saw manufacturing requirements the operator must have two functioning arms and be able to lift 10 kilograms safely.

On the day of the incident St. Jean was asked to operate a pull saw even though she was not approved to be working on that type of machinery.

St. Jean said that she pulled the saw backwards over her hand and immediately knew something wasn’t right. She started screaming and walked to the staff room and eventually to the ambulance.

The now 29-year-old said that she refused to look at her hand until five days after her surgery when the doctors told her she couldn’t leave the hospital without seeing the damage.

St. Jean eventually had a second skin-grafting surgery on her hand and spent a total of eight months in rehabilitation for her hand.

Since the incident St. Jean said that she has lost a lot of her independence.

Her injury forced her to stay with her parents, who had to help her relearn everyday tasks including putting her hair in a ponytail and doing up her pants. Because the injury was to her dominant hand she had to relearn how to eat, write and cook.

“I’m still kind of learning as I go. How do you open mascara without using your teeth?” St. Jean said. “My mom and my sister have been troubleshooting with me.”

She now has a trial myoelectric prosthetic, which is a moving hand that has electrodes attached to her muscles. St. Jean is the first in the province to use the device. St. Jean said that there is still a learning curve with using the prosthetic.

Although relearning these tasks has been a challenge, St. Jean said that the biggest challenge she has faced has been confidence. She feels self-conscious that her hand looks different and said that even her prosthetic hand draws attention.

Her mom Gizele said that her daughter suffered a huge setback in her confidence and is still more reserved and cautious than she was before the accident. Both St. Jean and her mom are going to therapy to help cope with the new situation.

“It kind of changed who I was because I had to rebuild my confidence. I had to rebuild who I was and who I am going to be again,” St. Jean said.

St. Jean first took the job at Nelson Lumber after being laid off as a hair stylist. After the incident she could not go back to styling hair as she could no longer hold scissors. She is now back in school retraining to be a hospital unit clerk.

Nelson Lumber was initially facing eight breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act but in the end only pleaded guilty to one.

St. Jean and her mom said they are both very disappointed that the company only pleaded guilty to one count and that the rest of the charges were withdrawn.

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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.