Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Manager gets 3.5 years for killing 4, maiming 1

On Christmas Eve 2009, six employees of Metron Construction were repairing balconies at a Toronto high-rise apartment. All the men were newcomers to Canada, hailing from Latvia, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. They were on a swing-stage scaffolding (the type of suspended scaffolding you often see on the outside of tall buildings) working on a 13th floor balcony. 

Their project manager, Vadim Kazenelson, was on the balcony handing them tools. As Shohruh Tojiddinov, one of the workers on the scaffolding, later reported, Kazenelson decided to climb on to the scaffolding. “He said ‘where is the lifeline’ and (the site supervisor Fayzullo) Fazilov said ‘don't worry’. … (Kazenelson) jumped into the stage and the stage broke. … I had this harness and I was sort of hanging in the air. I looked up and I saw Vadim pulling me up. … I saw four deaths and one was still alive. I vomited.” 

As Kazenelson landed on the scaffolding, it split in two. Kazenelson was able to scramble back onto the balcony. The other five men fell to the ground, instantly killing four (Alesandrs Bondarevs, Aleksey Blumberg, Vladamir Korostin and Fazilov). The fifth, Dilshod Marupov, was left permanently disabled. The scaffolding had only two lifelines available for the seven men and Tojiddinov was the only one using the fall protection. The scaffolding had been provided to Metron by Swing N Scaff Inc., a scaffolding supply company.

The investigation that followed the incident revealed the scaffold was faulty and had not been designed or inspected properly by Swing N Scaff. It also found the men, whose knowledge of English was limited, were provided no training about working at heights or using fall protection. There was insufficient fall protection gear available to secure all the men. Following the incident Kazenelson attempted to cover up the incident. He instructed Tojiddinov to say that Kazenelson had been on the ground and gave him a safety manual on fall protection (in English, which Tojiddinov could not read), instructing him to say he had received it before the incident.

The owner of Metron Construction, scaffold supplier Swing N Scaff, and project manager Vadim Kazenelson were all convicted of offenses after the Toronto scaffolding collapse. Metron was fined $750,000 for offences under the Ontario OHS Act. Swing N Scaff was ordered to pay $400,000, also under the OHS Act. In June 2015, Kazenelson was convicted under the Criminal Code for criminal negligence causing death and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. He was sentenced about 10 days ago.
During sentencing on Monday, Judge Ian MacDonnell said he needed to impose a "significant term" on Kazenelson to make it clear to others that they have a "serious obligation" to ensure the safety of workers.  
MacDonnell said Kazenelson "decided it was in the company's interest" to allow men to work in "manifestly dangerous conditions." 
Court heard the work repairing balconies was behind schedule as Christmas Eve approached and that the company, Metron Construction Inc., would get a $50,000 bonus by finishing the project by Dec. 31.
Kazenelson’s sentence for negligence causing four men to die was three and a half years in jail. Successful prosecutions for OHS deaths are rare in Canada (there have been fewer than 10 since the Westray amendments were enacted in 2004). Hopefully this sentence sends a message to other employers considering trading their workers’ health for profit.

-- Bob Barnetson

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