BUSINESS

Metron Construction Accident: Negligence Causing Death Verdict Exposes Company To $1 Million Fine

07/13/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 09/11/2012 05:12 EDT
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TORONTO - An Ontario construction company was fined $200,000 Friday for criminal negligence after four immigrant workers plunged to their deaths in a scaffolding accident in 2009.

In handing down the sentence, Ontario Court Justice Robert Bigelow called the deaths "horribly tragic consequences" that resulted from "serious breaches" of health and safety legislation by Metron Construction.

This is the first time in Ontario the Criminal Code has been used to hold a company responsible for a worker's death.

On Christmas Eve 2009, scaffolding from a high-rise building in Toronto snapped causing four workers — Alesandrs Bondarevs, Aleksey Blumberg, Vladamir Korostin and Fayzullo Fazilov — to fall 13 floors to their deaths.

The men ranged from 25 to 40 years old and were from Lativa, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. They had been there to do repairs on the building's concrete balconies.

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.

As part of the sentence, 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.

"Health and safety legislation exists to protect workers from serious injury or death in the workplace and the overriding principle to be considered by the court is that of deterrence, and any fine imposed must be substantial enough to warn others that the offence will not be tolerated," said the 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.

He noted that the fine amounts reflected the ability of the company and Swartz, a father of four, to pay. Metron Construction's yearly earnings have allegedly dropped by 50 per cent since the accident.

Neither Swartz nor any of the victims' families were present at the proceedings Friday.

Outside court, Sid Ryan, head of the Ontario Federation of Labour, called the sentence a "disgrace" considering the Crown had originally asked for a $1 million fine.

The OFL and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada, the country's largest private sector union, had both called for jail time, not just financial penalties in this case.

"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.

"The only way we can stop the carnage in the workplace is actual jail time."

The only message companies received today was that they will just have to "build the cost" of these accidents into their business plans, Ryan added.

Dilshod Marupov, the lone survivor from the accident, refused to comment when reached by telephone Friday. He did not attend the court hearing.

His lawyer, William Friedman, said his client will likely never work again given his extensive injuries, including a broken back and a host of psychological issues.

In 2010, Marupov launched a $16.3 million lawsuit against the province; Metron; Swing 'N Scaff, an Ottawa company that had supplied the scaffold, and the owners and management company of the Toronto high-rise.

Following the accident, a Ministry of Labour investigation found that safety measures like a fall-protection system were not in place when the workers went up on the 12-metre scaffolding floor of the high-rise building.

The workers' floor had also been overloaded and defective.

The company later admitted to not keeping proper training records or ensuring that the scaffold was properly maintained.

Between 80 and 90 workers a year die in Ontario on average in workplace mishaps, according to provincial statistics.