Question: Did $50,000 bonus play a factor in Toronto swing stage tragedy?
Speed kills. Whether speed was a factor in the deaths of the men in the Metron Construction tragedy, is debatable. But the lack of life lines, along with that speed, was most definitely a factor.
By Alec Caldwell
The president and sole shareholder of Metron Construction Corporation, Joel Swartz, had a $50,000 bonus riding on completion of the Kipling Avenue, Toronto, balcony remediation job by year’s end in 2009.
The job was running behind schedule when Swartz decided to personally visit the work site on the morning of that fateful Christmas Eve.
Later that day, four of Swartz’s workers would plunge 100 feet to their deaths, after the collapse of the swing stage they had been working on. They were not wearing life lines.
Exactly what Swartz said that morning to Vadim Kazenelson, the project manager, is not verifiable, obviously, via any kind of transcript or tape recording. No one has proven, or can prove, or has even alleged, that Swartz urged Kazenelson to get the job done faster at the expense of safety procedures. But the bonus doesn’t look good, does it?
Testimony during the subsequent Ministry of Labour inquest and subsequent criminal trial indicates that Kazenelson was not aware of any bonus due to Swartz/Metron. But it was clear that he was well aware of the year-end deadline itself. Testimony showed that, up until that morning, Kazenelson had actually been a stickler for safety. In fact, one worker testified that if either Kazenelson or his foreman had caught him working on a swing stage without being tied off to a life line, he would be fired.
So what went wrong that fateful day? What error did Kazenelson make? He had his meeting with Swartz, then arrived back at the job site after lunchtime and boarded the swing stage to find his foreman and four workers with only two life lines on the swing stage. There should have been a separate life line for each worker, including one for Kazenelson.
Kazenelson, trial transcripts show, is alleged to have asked his foreman about the absence of lifelines. The foreman allegedly replied, “Don’t worry about it.” Kazenelson’s fateful error was in not following through on the safety knowledge that he had clearly put into practice on pervious occasions. Adding more lifelines was possible, but it would take up precious time. And time was running out, to get the job done by year-end. So, was time a factor in Kazenelson’s decision?
While one worker connected to one of the two life lines, Kazenelson held onto the same life line. The other life line lay empty. On the swing stage’s final descent at the end of the day, well overloaded, it broke in half.
Kazenelson hung on to the lifeline for his life, finally climbing onto a balcony, pulling the one suspended worker to safety.
The foreman who had allegedly said, “Don’t worry about it,” along with three other workers, fell to their deaths. A fifth worker survived the accident, but was horribly injured for life.
So, Kazenelson had a fraction-of-a-second safety lapse. He was found guilty on four counts of criminal negligence causing death. He has been sentenced to 3-1/2 years in jail. He is out on bail and is appealing his conviction. Joel Swartz pleaded guilt of four counts under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act and fined $90,000. No jail time for him. And presumably, no bonus.
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