POLITICS

Project manager in deadly scaffolding collapse allowed lax safety: court hears

01/26/2015 02:20 EST | Updated 03/28/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - A project manager who oversaw a construction crew involved in a deadly scaffolding collapse in 2009 didn't insist workers be attached to safety lifelines and asked a survivor to lie about the incident, his trial heard Monday.

Vadim Kazenelson faces four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. He has maintained his innocence.

His judge-alone trial heard Monday from Shohruh Tojiddinov, a worker who came to Canada from Uzbekistan in May 2009 and was among a crew of migrant workers making repairs to balconies at a high-rise apartment building.

"He said 'I don't want to be guilty for this, responsible for this,'" Tojiddinov recalled Kazenelson telling him in the aftermath of the incident.

Kazenelson chose to join workers who were using a swing stage to go up and down the outside of the building on Christmas Eve 2009, said Tojiddinov, who testified in Russian.

At the end of the day six workers, including the site supervisor and Tojiddinov, got onto a swing stage which only had two lifelines, the court heard.

Tojiddinov attached himself to one lifeline, as he had always done, he said.

At that point, Kazenelson was still on a 13th floor balcony beside the swing stage, handing tools to the workers on the stage.

"Do you remember him saying anything about lifelines while you were getting onto the stage?" Crown attorney Elizabeth Moore asked.

"He said 'where is the lifeline' and (site supervisor Fayzullo) Fazilov said 'don't worry,'" Tojiddinov said through an interpreter. "He jumped into the stage...the stage broke."

Kazenelson was still holding onto the balcony when the swing stage split in two and managed to scramble back on, Tojiddinov said.

Five others who were on the swing stage plummeted to the ground — four died and one sustained horrific injuries. Tojiddinov, who was the only one properly secured to a lifeline, was left suspended in mid-air.

"I had this harness, and I was sort of hanging in the air," he said. "I opened my eyes and I saw birds flying and I looked up and I saw Vadim pulling me up."

Kazenelson hauled Tojiddinov up to the balcony using the lifeline he was hanging on and then called emergency services, Tojiddinov said.

The two men then rushed down to the workers who had fallen to the ground.

"I saw four deaths and one was still alive," Tojiddinov said, looking down at his hands as he spoke. "I vomited."

Alesandrs Bondarevs, Aleksey Blumberg, Vladamir Korostin and site supervisor Fayzullo Fazilov fell 13 floors to their deaths. The men ranged from 25 to 40 years old and were from Lativa, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.

As police began investigating, Kazenelson instructed Tojiddinov to say he that he had been on the ground during the incident, operating a construction bucket filled with work materials that was sent up along with the swing stage, Tojiddinov said.

That bucket had been operated by a man who was not part of the regular work crew, he said, adding that Kazenelson later said the man was a relative.

The trial also heard that after the collapse, Kaznelson visited Tojiddinov at his apartment to give him a safety manual written in English, which Tojiddinov couldn't read.

"If somebody asks about this book, then say that I received it before the accident," Tojiddinov recalled Kaznelson saying.

Earlier Monday, the trial heard from another construction worker who was not present at the time of the incident but said he had no concerns about the safety aspects of his job.

The construction company involved in the case, Metron Construction Corp., pleaded to criminal negligence causing death and was eventually fined $750,000 plus a victim surcharge — the first time in Ontario that the Criminal Code has been used to hold a company responsible for a worker's death.

The company that supplied the swing stage, Ottawa-based Swing N Scaff Inc., was fined $350,000 for failing to ensure the platform was in good condition.