Charges laid in scaffolding accident that killed 4 workers

Posted by admin on Aug 14th, 2010

Sat Aug 14 2010, Toronto Star

Charges carrying fines of up to $17,000,000 have been laid against two companies that ran and supplied a platform that collapsed in Etobicoke on Christmas Eve, plunging four migrant workers to their deaths. Individual executives and supervisors at the companies could also face years in jail after a total of 61 charges were issued by the provincial labour ministry Saturday. They come after an exhaustive, seven-month investigation into the Dec. 24th incident, which saw five eastern European workers fall 13 storeys from the side of a Kipling Ave. apartment building

One of the workers miraculously survived.

Some 30 charges were brought under the Occupational Health and Safety Act against Metron Construction Corporation, who employed the workers. Another 16 were levelled against a director of that company and eight more against a Metron supervisor, said ministry spokesperson Matt Blajer.

Platform supplier Swing ‘N’ Scaff faces four charges while three were laid against a director of the company.

Each of the corporate charges carries a potential $500,000 fine, Blajer said.

Penalties for the unnamed individuals range up to $25,000 in fines and a year in jail for each allegation.

The tragedy, the city’s worst workplace accident in a generation, sparked a provincial review of the system that protects Ontario workers and a safety blitz of construction sites.

The blitz led to the shutdown of 784 dangerous jobs on sites throughout Ontario.

Together Saturday’s charges paint a picture of shoddy or absent maintenance, supervision and construction and a woeful lack of safety training at the Kipling Ave. site.

“Generally speaking the charges relate to 12 major points,” Blajer says.

Together the charges paint a picture of shoddy or absent maintenance and supervision, and a woeful lack of safety training and equipment.

None of the charges has been proved in court.

“Generally speaking the charges relate to 12 major points,” Blajer says.

The charges allege “failure to ensure workers use proper devices to prevent them from falling… failure to ensure the platform was not overloaded (and) failure to ensure the platform was designed in accordance with regulations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act,” he said.

Charges also relate to allegations of inadequate training, instruction and supervision on fall prevention, a failure to ensure the platform was supplied in good condition and a lack of proper maintenance and adequate inspection.

Ministry stop work orders on the site were issued against Metron at least twice in the months leading up to the accident, mostly dealing with safety concerns.

John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, said the charges point to a serious and thorough investigation by the ministry.

“I would say I’m very pleased that the ministry has obviously combed all of the details of what happened at this tragic event,” Cartwright said.

He said, however, that criminal charges should be brought against the employers, in order to further deter others in the “underground economy” who often take advantage of migrant workers.

Some employers “really prey on immigrant workers, refugees who don’t feel they have any right to stand up to for proper safety conditions or demand the proper training necessary,” he said.

The dead included 40-year-old Vladimir Korostin, a father of two from Uzbekistan who was seeking refugee status in Canada.

Also killed were Aleksey Blumberg, a newly married refugee claimant from Ukraine, and Russian Alexander Bondorev.

Fayzullo Fazilov 31, perished as well, while a fifth man, Dilshod Marupov, who managed to hang onto the collapsed platform momentarily before falling, suffered serious leg and spinal injuries.

Metron president Joel Swartz did not reply to email requests for comment.

Hearings into the charges will begin at the Ontario court of justice in Toronto on Sept. 30.

In January, bowing to pressure from organized labour and relatives of victims, Queen’s Park said it would review the system that protects workers in this province.

Tony Dean, the respected former head of the Ontario Public Service, was named to chair a panel of safety experts, labour groups and employers to recommend changes by next fall.

Since 1990, more than 400 workers have been killed in construction mishaps.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said he was “absolutely committed” to ensuring the safety of work sites.

“I would be eager to receive any recommendations to see what more we may do to make sure that our construction sites are safe,” McGuinty said.

The expert advisory panel will go beyond the construction industry to review the entire system of occupational health, safety, prevention and enforcement, Labour Minister Peter Fonseca said at the time. “Even one death or injury in a workplace is too many,” he said.

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