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BCFED calls for criminal charges after worker death

Russell Hixson
BCFED calls for criminal charges after worker death

The BC Federation of Labour (BCFED) is demanding answers about the fine assessed against a Vancouver property development firm whose violations of health and safety rules were cited as factors in the death of a Kamloops construction worker in 2015.

BCFED called the fine "paltry" and criticized officials for not pursuing criminal charges.

Sean Alexander Donetz was killed on the job after falling from a lifting device at a Kamloops construction site. The Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) investigated the incident and found Donetz’s death was caused by a "high-risk and repeated violation," by his employer, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Onni Group of Companies.

According to WorkSafeBC records, Onni was the prime contractor building a Kamloops shopping centre. Two workers from a subcontractor’s firm were applying fire retardant to the ceiling of one of the centre’s units by using a rented scissor lift. After spraying, the prime contractor’s site superintendent, who was also the site safety officer, gave one of the workers permission to borrow another subcontractor’s scissor lift so both of the workers could clean the fire retardant overspray at the same time.

The end guardrail on the borrowed lift was not in place and the mid-rail safety chain was not in use. Further, the worker who borrowed the scissor lift was not using a personal fall protection system. He raised the scissor lift to just over three metres for the cleaning task. While cleaning, he lost balance and fell backwards out of the back of the scissor lift to the concrete floor below, sustaining fatal injuries.

"As the prime contractor of a multi-employer workplace, the firm failed to ensure the co-ordination of the occupational health activities of employers, workers and other individuals at the workplace," reads WorkSafeBC’s assessment of the incident. "This was a high-risk and repeated violation."

Onni was fined $48,719.50. They did not respond to requests for comment from The Journal of Commerce.

"Such a paltry fine for a safety violation that cost a worker his life sends a message to employers that they don’t have to follow the rules," said BCFED president Irene Lanzinger. "It says employers can kill or injure workers with impunity, or at worst a small fine and a slap on the wrist. It’s unacceptable."

In a letter to B.C. Labour Minister Shirley Bond, Lanzinger asked her to explain why the WCB assessed such a "small penalty to a company with such deep pockets."

"And given the WCB’s findings, the bigger question I’ve asked the minister to explain is why a criminal prosecution was not pursued against Onni for negligence causing death?" Lanzinger said. "We want to know why Onni executives aren’t facing jail time."

Six months ago, another B.C. employer was hit with fines after 22-year-old Kelsey Ann Kristian died on the job. She was crushed by a 31,000-kilogram heavy duty truck that she was operating without any training at a quarry near Mission. In this case charges were laid against the quarry firm and two people for the incident.

The case was one of the first of its kind where an employer faced criminal charges. A government analysis found that Kristian hadn’t been adequately trained and wasn’t under proper supervision. The courts issued a fine rather than jail time.

"These are both clear examples of why government needs to do more to make employers face real consequences — including jail time — when their negligence and failure to keep workers safe on the job results in injury or death," said Lanzinger.

Erica Simpson, WorkSafeBC government and media relations officer, explained that WorkSafeBC issued the maximum penalty that was possible within the law and policy regarding the Onni case.

The penalty amount was calculated based on the nature of the violation and the assessable payroll of Onni Contracting Ltd., which was $2.4 million in the full year prior to the incident (2014). This penalty was calculated in accordance with the policy in place at the time of the incident, she stated.

"With regard to criminal charges, WorkSafeBC does not have the authority to conduct criminal investigations, which is the authority of police services," said Simpson. "WorkSafeBC does have the authority to conduct investigations under the Workers’ Compensation Act."

She added any recommended prosecution resulting from these investigations is referred to Crown counsel for charge consideration.

"WorkSafeBC carefully and thoroughly considered all the circumstances surrounding the incident and the contributing factors, and determined the most appropriate option was to levy the largest administrative penalty available under the law and policy against this employer," she said.

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