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The expendables – the life of Ontario construction workers worth a mere pittance

Two weeks ago, in Brampton, Ont., yet another construction-related company was prosecuted in the fatal death of a worker.

English Prestige Builders Ltd., a company that provides real estate project management services, pleaded guilty to failing to ensure that the health and safety of workers was protected. For the death of one worker, English Prestige was fined a total of $75,000. For the severe injuries sustained by another worker, English Prestige was slapped on the wrist with a further $25,000 fine.

English Prestige had been hired to demolish an interior concrete block wall at Cosmos Furniture Ltd.  They subbed this work out to a firm called Immaculate Scrap Metal Disposal, who on Oct. 28 last year had four workers working in the vicinity of the wall.

The wall, about 26 feet high, collapsed and two of Immaculate’s men were impacted: one died, the other suffered severe injuries. The other two workers escaped any injuries.

The modesty of these fines, I believe, shows that Ontario courts have no teeth in clamping down on those found guilty of exposing people to work dangers causing disabilities and death.

This might sound harsh, but I believe that jail should be the minimum sentence dished out to all those who leave families without a son, wives or spouses without a husband, children without fathers.

And we’ll never know what pain or suffering the individual who died experienced.

The second worker was luckier – if youu can call him lucky. He received injuries that I’m sure will disable him and his mind for the rest of his life. He suffered severe trauma to the back, chest and pelvic area.

On top of the fines mentioned, the court also  imposed a 25-per-cent “victim fine surcharge” ($25,000) against English Prestige, paid towards a special government fund set up for victims.

So, in total, $125,000 was the total measly amount of all fines levied against this company, found guilty of failing to protect these workers, under the Occupation Health and Safety Act and administered by the Ministry of Labour.

Adding insult to death (insult to injury doesn’t cut it), I’ll assume the fine money paid by this company will become a write off in their yearly tax return. I wonder how much profit these companies made on the backs of these two workers?

Finally, get out your calculator and take a guess at the income loss to both these workers’ families, if they had survived and worked to age 65. It would be million of dollars. Imagine the effect this is going to have on their loved ones.

It’s time politicians stood up and made changes to our antiquated laws. I say again: There should be a minimum price to pay for someone’s life and someone’s injuries, no matter where you live in Canada or elsewhere in this world!

What do you think? Let us know your views on this sad news item, below.

CARAHS was founded as a non profit association to help educate, inform and mentor self-employed renovators, builders, trades and home services provideer. We welcome your comments, feedback and stories to share with others.

CARAHS has over 130 online Health & Safety e-courses at www.carahs.org

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Posted by
Alec Caldwell is the Founder of CARAHS (Canadian Association of Renovators And Home Services) A Non profit organization for self employed renovators And home services
8 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. This is a rather inflammatory viewpoint. I don’t know anything about the accident but you seem to imply that English Prestige is solely responsible for the accident. What about the subcontractor? Certainly they would share some responsibility. And what about the site foreman and the workers themselves. There are a lot of questions. Presumably the families and victims will receive compensation from the insurance providers regardless of what fines were levied.

  2. My heart goes out to the worker’s families and coworkers and bosses, but the post doesn’t say what the offence was that they were charged with. Often, if training was up to date, and the issue of fault couldn’t be 100% described, the fine is for failure to file, or failure to notify, not for failure to provide a safe environment. In this specific case, is was failure to provide. No amount of safety training will ever completely out weigh a bad decision. The ministry also tends to wait the better part of a year before letting people know the charges are being laid. Then it usually uses a plea bargain type of justice, where higher fines are sought, but reduced if plead out. These plead out convictions then set a precedence as an admission of guilt. I think a lot are plead out (this one was).
    When faced with a fine of 75,000, vs the threat jail and a much higher sum if you don’t plea, take the plea. Experts may testify, but chances that the judge has not been on a site, and the fines center on the reading of the law, not reasonably looking to circumstance. It tends to be presumed guilt, so prove yourself innocent, because of course, someone got hurt and somebody died. One cannot get insurance against this type of accident, because failure to provide.. is a criminal act, and you cannot insure against criminal acts, even if you didn’t mean for them to happen. The amount can easily bankrupt the people involved in some cases. I’m interested to see how that victims surcharge is positively helping these specific victims, as opposed to being doled out in the jurisdiction of the court office. Rest assured the damage was done when the accident happened. No amount of prayers can unhappen it. Another business taught a lesson it thought it knew. As an employer who strives to do better than the minimum, and loves my guys and their families I kind of found the earlier rant hard to take. I hope the ministry continues to seek out justice, avoid the plea bargain as a cost effective tool, and to try to prevent injury. Its all about the lives of people.

  3. I’m a general contractor with 25 years of experience in residential & commercial
    In this regard generally when you sub out a job to a qualified sub contractor it is his responsibility of all kind safety is one of them to make sure their employee are safe ,so I can’t figure out why is he involved in to this when every Construction company are registered with WSIB and they have to pass all the training about safety, I think the story is like English prestige hired few guys that they Owen a company and they were not registered with WSIB and accident happened and now it is his responsibility .

  4. Thanks Steve for your more caring words. Yet no matter who it happen, who was to blame, this sole perished in seconds, snuffed out and yes we are make errors and some unfortunate person did that morning. What I’m up in arms about is the value put on someone death. We cannot bring him back, but we should be able through funding dish Building companies no matter the size should be made to pay money in to a survivors fund to cover for such events. Big profits are being made on the backs of worker, some even working in Toronto illegal.

    Certainly there could be a long drown out civil suit, but that takes energy, takes time, money and before anything can happen to help this family, they could well be we on their way to skid row.

  5. Hi Ali
    Thank you very much for speeking out and there is confusion out there.

    The first area that starts the confusion is WSIB. Firstly when they give a clearence to a sub trade, it’s seen they’ve deemed them as independants and you are off the hook and they have to take care of themselves

    Where in fact this assumption is wrong. All WSIB is doing is not making you responsible for premiums due on them. So WSIB clears you of them by issuing you a clearence certificate. The clearence does not say they are self employed.

    Now is the other corner upholding and policing the occupational health and safety ACT is the Ministry of Labour (MOL) Their outlook is there are no such persons out there call self employed. Everyone is an employee.

    Under the laws, regardless if they call themselves abc construction Inc or whatever.

    For example: a RONA truck turns up at the job site to deliver product. Once this driver steps onto the job site, he ceases to be an employee of RONA, and it now switches to becoming an employee of the constructor or general contractor. Remember RONA is still paying his wage.

    Every constructor or general contractor out there better know this and tell the driver about their policies and procedures on site. Also making sure this driver is up to safety and carries an update fall awareness card, WHMIS and more. RONA has to make sure the driver has all these as well and is aware of the situation.

    If not and the driver gets killed on that job site, the constructor or general contractor could be seen as the employer and RONA the supervisor

    If prosicuted ùnder law, both could be found guilty of not protection the worker in the court of law and both will hang from the same tree.

  6. I would like to comment on this subject. First of all I would like to send our condolences out to their Families. We were contacted by the owners to give them a quote on the clean up and removal of the rest of the wall that was left standing as it was now an unsafe situation. I had several meetings with the owners and the MOL to explain on our procedures on how this work had to be done. Once we submitted all paper work to the MOL we had a final meeting with the MOL and their Engineering department. Once they were satisfied with our procedures they lifted the stop work order and we proceeded with the work . It is always easier to comment on the situation after the fact but I can tell you Alec is right as long as we don’t make the companies pay for their mistakes then they always will higher some one that says he can do the job cheaper and they will give him the job to make more money. The sub had no business being there and doing the job as they were not qualified or experience enough to do so. This is a big problem in this industry as everyone thinks that what we do is easy. When Hiring a sub it is still our responsibility to make sure that the sub can do the job that he is hired for and not just look at the dollar amount that we can make. The people that work for me being either Employees or subs are still Human beings that have every right to go home at the end of the day. We will do everything in our power to make sure that happens by educating and training our employees as much as we can over and over again as Cost is not an option on our employees lives. Thank you

  7. Alec Caldwell

    Hi Glenn,

    Thank you very much for speaking up and adding real life to this story.

    In sure many read articles like mine’s and say “same old story” maybe because they have never experienced this situation. Maybe they think there are to many laws already or their disconnected to what’s really going on.

    Finally someone’s there in you to confirm what’s really happening out there. You live it, you felt the aurora or the feeling on that job site afterwards.

    This was not just another job for you, a wall to clear up, this was a special job, where a great worker died, who probably worked for a mere pittance. This is a job you’ll never forget doing and I’m so glad you spoke out here. You are a brave guy Glenn.

    When you say “Employees or subs are still human beings that have every right to go home at the end of the day. We will do everything in our power to make sure that happens by educating and training our employees as much as we can over and over again as cost is not an option on our employees lives”

    That says it all and that’s why your company was called in this time to clean up the mess left behind by the lowest bidding company. To clean up the mess this time, they wanted the best, they already had the worst, based on the lowest price in the city. “They had no business being there and doing the job as they were not qualified or experience enough to do so” this confirms the lowest bidder cuts corners and cause deaths.

    I think companies like yours and other should be recognized and I know in your reply to my article, it was not your intention to push your companies name, but I do. I want people to know about the good guys out there and your company is one of them. So I take my had off to:
    Always Available Environmental & Demolition Solutions http://www.alwaysavailable.ca/main.php

    What you also confirm Glenn, its about greed and as you say “as long as we don’t make the companies pay for their mistakes then they always will higher some one that says he can do the job cheaper and they will give him the job to make more money”

    That’s the root cause of the problem …..greed and profits and its time the laws were change and strengthened to give some meaning to someone’s death and prosecute offender with higher fines and jail time.

    If others are reading this and have experience why people should never use the lowest price company, because there are reasons their lower, they cut corners and cause death.

    Its time now to speak out. Lets start a movement NOW for change.

    I’ve already emailed our Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne re this Workers Death. You can do the same and voice your opinion. write to: premier@ontario.ca

    From Alec Caldwell CARAHS Founder

  8. Alec Caldwell

    Hi John T,
    I really appreciated your feed back on this article and after I posted it , as you can read above from the contractor who got the job off removing the balance of the wall afterwards. He says:

    ” as long as we don’t make the companies pay for their mistakes then they always will higher some one that says he can do the job cheaper and they will give him the job to make more money. The sub had no business being there and doing the job as they were not qualified or experience enough to do so”

    There is a heavy culture of silence going on about safety, especially in the private sector, like home renovations and new home building. I believe when it goes wrong and a person is killed, someone has to be help accountable in that death. Heavier fines or whatever are needed to reflect on the gravity of taking someone’s life. Yes they’ll be special circumstances, like the contractors safety record was first class up to that point, so maybe leniency comes in to effect on cases like that.

    I write articles to bring attention to these serious matters. I’m not out to gain votes from any party or promote anyone. If that were you or my broken dead body under that fallen wall, would you or I not like someone to tell others about the situation you had just lost your life in? I certainly would.

    The new sub contractor brought in after the death had talks with the Ministry of Labour, before starting the clean up process. It was his opinion that “The sub had no business being there and doing the job as they were not qualified or experience enough to do so”

    There is the problem, its called greed and profit.

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