A public statement was issued by the apparent owners of the apartment complex, 2058876 Ontario Ltd, expressing their sympathies for the “tragic jobsite accident”.
The workers have been identified as from Russia, Uzbekistan and Israel. The legality of their migrant status is still being determined although one report has identified two of the dead as refugees.
One media report on December 31, has identified the swing stage company as Metron Construction. The report states that concerns had been raised about the safety of the scaffolding being used by Metron several months before the deaths and that a stop work order had been issued. The order was lifted a week before the incident.
The orders pertained to the design of the swing stage. The media report makes no mention of the use or provision of safety harnesses.
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) has called on the Attorney-General to launch a criminal investigation into the incident. Although OFL is not saying that criminal negligence applies in the swing stage deaths, it has used the incident to call on the Attorney-General for a more robust application of the Canadian Criminal Code.
“We would like to see you take more seriously the provision in the Criminal Code of Canada that gives your office the power to lay criminal charges if an employer causes death or serious harm due to negligence. This provision was put in place after the death of 26 men when the Westray Coal mine exploded on April 5, 1992 in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, so that negligent employers would not get away with workplace deaths. Corporations and their officers, for the first time, could be punished for failing to protect the health of their employees or the public. The Criminal code amendments, brought in by Bill C-45 in 2004 was pushed for by the Canadian Labour Congress, United Steel Workers, and family members of deceased miners. The amendments marked a significant shift in the liabilities of organizations for the failure of their senior officers to act.”
This is likely to rekindle the continuing debate over the application of Bill C-45:
“Every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task.”
Although the Bill, now section 217 of the Criminal Code, may have been created in response to political pressure, it has held out some hope for a strong enforcement approach for the Canadian OHS fraternity.
The inquiries into the unfortunate deaths of the four migrant workers and the spinal injuries of the fifth are still in early days but already raise a combination of questions about worker qualifications, contractor management and corporate accountability. Intense examination is also likely on the decision of the Ministry of Labour inspector to lift the stop work order on December 17.