A Canadian construction company will pay more than $300,000 in penalties for the death of four workers who fell 13 stories from a collapsed swing-stage scaffold on Christmas Eve 2009.
Ontario Court Justice Robert Bigelow, who imposed the penalty on Metron Construction, called the deaths “horribly tragic consequences” that resulted from “serious breaches” of health and safety regulations by Metron Construction, according to news accounts in Canadian media.
Metron had earlier entered guilty pleas in connection with the accident.
But representatives of organized labor called the penalties inadequate, in light of the $1 million fine suggested by prosecutors.
“Today’s ruling is disgraceful," Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), said after the sentencing on Friday, July 13. “It says that a worker’s life is worth no more than $50,000 and many bad bosses across the province will simply chalk it up as the cost of doing business.”
News reports said the case represented the first time criminal law was used in Ontario to hold a company responsible for a worker’s death.
The accident occurred when scaffolding on a high-rise building in Toronto collapsed, causing the four workers to plunge 13 floors to their deaths. The victims were Alesandrs Bondarevs, Aleksey Blumberg, Vladamir Korostin and Fayzullo Fazilov, who ranged in age from 25 to 40 and were from the eastern European countries of Latvia and Ukraine and from Uzbekistan in central Asia, according to reports.
A fifth worker, Dilshod Marupov, survived the incident but sustained serious injuries. A sixth worker, the only one properly wearing a full-body safety harness, was pulled to safety, according to news accounts of the accident.
As part of the sentence, Judge Bigelow also ordered the company to pay a $30,000 victim surcharge fine, which goes into a special fund to assist those affected by crime in the province.
Judge Bigelow also sentenced the owner of the company, Joel Swartz, to pay $90,000 plus a $22,500 victim surcharge fine for four convictions under the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Neither Swartz nor any of the victims’ families were present at the proceedings Friday, according to news reports.
The Ontario Federation of Labour and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada, the country’s largest private-sector union, had both called for jail time in addition to financial penalties.
“I believe employers in this province, in some cases, have been getting away with murder in the sense of killing workers every single day,” said Ryan of the Federation of Labour.
According to the Ministry of Labour, its investigation found the deceased workers had not been properly tied off to a lifeline, and had not been properly trained in the use of fall protection. The swing stage was overloaded and it was later determined to be defective and hazardous
The scaffold floor broke near the middle after the six men boarded it on the way down at the end of the work day. Only one had the proper lifeline, according to reports.
The facts of the case showed that that negligence on the part of the site supervisor—who also died in the accident—contributed to Metron’s criminal liability. Prior to the Christmas Eve 2009 incident, the site supervisor directed or permitted six workers to work on the swing stage even though he knew, or should have known, that it was unsafe to do so, reports said. The site supervisor also permitted six workers to board the swing stage with only two lifelines available, and permitted workers under the influence of alcohol to work on the project, those reports indicated.