Migrant workers’ deaths on Christmas Eve

According to the Toronto Police, four workers died on December 24 2009 when the swing stage they were working on collapsed.  A fifth man, Dilshod Marupov, is in hospital.

Media reports have identified the five workers as migrant workers and although the swing stage was at the thirteenth floor of an apartment complex, no-one was wearing safety harnesses.

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.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

1 thought on “Migrant workers’ deaths on Christmas Eve”

  1. Regular reader Terry Thomas has asked that I submit this comment on his behalf

    Toronto Swing Stage Collapse

    In response to your article “Migrant Workers Die in Toronto” I felt there were a few issues that should be clarified or at least put into perspective. The investigation into this incident is still ongoing and much of the information available is speculative or preliminary in nature.

    The descriptor “migrant workers” may be a bit of a misnomer as at least one of the workers has lived in Canada for the last 8 years according to a report (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/745506–widow-seeks-inquiry-in-scaffold-tragedy) in the January 4th edition of the Toronto Star and it would appear that another had been here for at least 2 years. There is no indication that any of these people were illegally in the country. The same report indicates that on 29 December the MOL ordered Metron to provide records of fall protection training for the involved workers. As you pointed out this training, or lack of it is going to be a major issue in this incident investigation.

    Another major question to be answered regards who is the “constructor” for the project; Metron Construction or the numbered company that owns the building? The term constructor (http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/pubs/constructor/cons_2.php) used in Ontario is roughly equivalent to your principal contractor in Victoria. In addition there is speculation that the workers involved may not be employees but considered as independent contractors.

    The “one media report” referenced in paragraph 5 of your article stated that the Ministry of Labour (MOL) issued a stop work order on 20 October and it remained in place until 17 December. According to CBC Canada (http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2009/12/31/toronto-scaffolding-ministry-labour.html) the stop order issued on 20 October regarding the swing stage was lifted the following day when Merton complied with the orders issued. A separate stop order was issued on 17 December regarding another swing stage located on the site and was lifted the same day when the issues were resolved.

    A picture (http://www.journalofcommerce.com/article/id36978) of the site taken in the following days seem to indicate that at least 2 vertical lifelines are still in place, but it is unclear whether any of the crew was attached at the time of the incident. The outcome would indicate that if fall protection harnesses were being worn, they were not secured to lifelines. A suspended material bucket is visible in the centre of the picture and it will have to be determined if it had any bearing on the collapse of the swing stage.

    The Bill C-45 (http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/legisl/billc45.html) you refer to no longer exists as it was a product of the 2nd Session of the 37th Parliament (http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HouseBills/billsgovernment.aspx?Parl=37&Ses=2&Language=E&Mode=1) which sat between 30 September 2002 and 12 November 2003. Once the bill was passed into law and that session of Parliament ended so did any referenced bills. The amendments not only changed section 217 of the Criminal Code (http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/laws/stat/rsc-1985-c-c-46/latest/rsc-1985-c-c-46.html) but also a number of others including sections 22 and 556 which allow for criminal charges against individuals as well as corporations.

    Since the amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada in 2004 there have been 2 charges laid; one was dropped in favour of finding a supervisor guilty under oh&s regulation and the second resulted in a guilty plea with a $100,000 fine against a Quebec corporate entity in 2008. Based on the investigation currently being carried out by the Toronto police and the Ministry of Labour a recommendations for criminal charges can be forwarded to crown counsel who will make a decision as to whether or not to proceed.

    The MOL is facing some intense scrutiny regarding this incident, however from the limited information available in the media it would appear that the MOL inspectors were doing a reasonable job with 9 inspections apparently carried out at the site in the 10 weeks before the collapse. The 2 stop work orders issued were rescinded when the necessary information was provided or adequate corrective action taken. This morning according to Global Toronto (http://www.globaltoronto.com/Ontario+launches+construction+site+safety+blitz/2412103/story.html) the MOL is undertaking a construction site safety blitz with the emphasis on fall hazards, training and suspended scaffolds.

    Terry Thomas
    Occupational Health & Safety Practitioner
    Abbotsford, British Columbia

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