Why did John Hill die? A recent coroner’s office announcement of an inquest into the death of the 45-year-old construction worker was certainly perfunctory.
The information was minimal — Hill died at a construction site in Toronto on Aug. 16, 2011. No trade mentioned, no details of the death. The case did not seem particularly unique. The inquest, scheduled for Dec. 7, is being held because it’s mandatory under the Coroners Act.
The Buildsafe website listing Ontario construction deaths did not add much: "August 16, 2011 — A worker fell approximately 14 feet off the second-storey roof of a house in Toronto while doing roofing work."
A look at the other construction deaths listed that year — there were 22 of them, making it a typical year — showed a half dozen other fatalities from falls among the various deaths.
Dr. Roger Skinner, regional supervising coroner for Central Region, Toronto West Office, knows the statistics full well. He has presided over many of Ontario’s inquests into construction accidents.
"You’re right, we see the same general scenario repeated," said Skinner. "What does come out of them are recommendations on the unique circumstances of each case. And so there are recommendations around the legislation, around improved training, around monitoring that training and around inspections."
It turns out Hill’s death that dry, warm summer day was not as unremarkable as the coroner’s notice seemed to indicate. Hill’s supervisor and employer were accused of violations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and there were rare convictions. In 2013, Roofing Medics Ltd., based in Brampton, was fined $50,000 and its supervisor and owner, Paul Markewycz, was jailed for 15 days for violations of the OHSA related to Hill’s death.
Court records shine a light on what was a tragic situation for all concerned — even for Markewycz, a young married father of two who had taken his employees including John Hill for falls safety training just a week before and who was on site supervising his crew of three that August day. Evidence indicated Hill was wearing a lanyard but it was not attached to any fall-restraint system.
Justice C. Ann Nelson, writing in support of her sentences, indicated, "Given Mr. Markewycz’s role as supervisor on Mr. Hill’s work sites, there is an inference available that Mr. Markewycz was aware that Mr. Hill did not always secure his safety harness. This should have heightened Mr. Markewycz’s attention to the requirement for Mr. Hill to secure his fall arrest equipment."
Hill had been employed by Roofing Medics for just a few months, court records state.
He had a wife and son but he’d been going through a rough patch in his life. When he fell, he struck a fence, stood up, said he was not feeling well and asked to be driven home. Hill died in Markewycz’s car before Markewycz and another employee could get him to a hospital.
Courts records then weave a tale of flawed decision-making on the part of Markewycz. In the case of this kind of fatality, there are several responsibilities prescribed by law including notifying an inspector with the Ministry of Labour and filing a written report within 48 hours.
Instead, Markewycz lied about the details of the incident when contacted by York police, saying the accident had occurred at Markewycz’s Brampton home. The Ministry of Labour only learned about Hill’s death through the coroner.
Peel police then continued their investigation and finally, on Aug. 23, 2011 Markewycz and his lawyer met with two Ministry of Labour inspectors to tell the truth.
At trial, Roofing Medics Ltd. pleaded guilty to failing as an employer to ensure safety measures were carried out as required and to failing to notify an inspector of the occurrence within 48 hours as required by law.
Markewycz pleaded guilty to failing as a supervisor to ensure that a worker worked with the protective devices required by law and pleaded guilty to knowingly giving an inspector false information.
In sentencing Markewycz on Nov. 21, 2013, Justice Nelson said personal deterrence was not an issue — Markewycz had suffered plenty including incurring substantial financial losses.
"I am confident that Mr. Markewycz will be diligent in future in ensuring all of his workers wear and use fall protection gear."
But in issuing the jail term and fine, she said, she wanted to send a strong message of general deterrence.
"Time after time workers are injured, sometimes grievously, sometimes fatally," wrote Justice Nelson. "None of these accidents should have happened. All could have been avoided had the required fall protection devices been in place. Yet, roofers keep falling off roofs despite all efforts of the Ministry to educate and prosecute these types of offences."
Justice Nelson noted that in 2011 41 per cent of all construction deaths were due to falls.
"This reality highlights the need for the Court to fashion a sentence for Mr. Markewycz and Roofing Medics which will deter both defendants, and, more importantly, other supervisors and roofing companies, from failing to protect their employees."