BC Insulators union calls for BC to back criminal prosecution in workers’ deaths

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BC Insulators Union  NEWS RELEASE     

Monday March 24, 2014

BC Insulators union calls on BC government to support criminal prosecution of corporate executives responsible for workers’ deaths and injuries – endorses BC Motion introduced March 24 by MLA Harry Bains – says too many insulation workers have already died from exposure to deadly asbestos

VANCOUVER – The union representing workers who installed and removed thousands of tons of asbestos insulation without adequate protection – and whose members are dying as a result – is calling on the BC government to criminally prosecute corporate executives responsible for worker deaths and injuries.

BC Insulators Union Local 118 Business Manager Lee Loftus says dozens of his members have died and many more are terminally ill because they were exposed to asbestos insulation during removal without adequate protection being provided by employers.

Loftus is urging the BC government and opposition to pass a Motion introduced in the BC Legislature Monday by Surrey Newton NDP MLA Harry Bains to: “…pursue prosecutions of corporate executives and directors responsible for workers’ health and safety in cases of negligence causing workplace death or serious injury.”

Loftus says lives literally depend on the successful prosecution of corporate executives and directors who are responsible for worker deaths and injuries, not just for the insulation sector but construction, forestry, mining and other occupations.

“Workers are dying every year from negligence and yet we still don’t see criminal prosecution of those responsible,” says Loftus.  “The recent failure to law criminal charges after the deaths of two workers at the Babine Forest Products explosion in Burns Lake is only the latest in a long string of failures that have to stop.”

Loftus says that current provisions under the Criminal Code, such as the Westray Law passed in 2003, have never been enforced because provincial mechanisms to sufficiently investigate and prosecute are inadequate.

And Loftus points out that in recent years the only time employers have been successfully prosecuted is for contempt of court, not their actual negligent actions.

“Workers at AM Environmental, Tri City Hazmat, Surrey Hazmat and Pro Scan Environmental were repeatedly exposed to asbestos by their employer Arthur Moore in 2010,” Loftus says. “

Despite repeated orders by WorkSafeBC, Moore did not stop until the B.C. Court of Appeal found him in contempt in 2012 for continuing to operate his asbestos and drywall removal business regardless of a court order that he stop doing such work,” Loftus said.  Moore was jailed 60 days for contempt of court.

And Loftus says late last year Seattle Environmental and Skylite Building Maintenance owner Mike Singh received over 290 asbestos-related orders from WorkSafeBC but did not stop performing asbestos related work until a B.C. Court Supreme Court justice found him in contempt and fined the company and its owners $15,000.

“It’s time for the government to step up and give teeth to legislation already in place and provide bodies such as the crown and WorkSafeBC with the tools necessary to stop employers who have negligently put workers lives at risk,” Loftus says.

“We must take action by dedicating a crown prosecutor to deal with workplace fatalities and train police services and WorkSafeBC officers on Section 217.1 of the Criminal Code.”

Loftus says in both cases criminal prosecution should have been considered but wasn’t because of weaknesses in the system.

“This Motion can be the first important step taken towards saving workers’ lives – surely everyone in the BC Legislature can agree on how important that is and not let this motion be defeated,” Loftus said.

Here is the unedited version of NDP MLA Harry Bains – Surrey Newton – introducing his Motion in the BC Legislature from Hansard, the record of proceedings:

Private Members’ Motions

MOTION 8 — PROSECUTION OF NEGLIGENCE 
IN WORKPLACE DEATH AND INJURY CASES

H. Bains: It is my honour to rise today to move the following motion.

[Be it resolved that this House urge the Government to pursue prosecutions of corporate executives and directors responsible for workers’ health and safety in cases of negligence causing workplace death or serious injury.]

This can be achieved by adopting the following policies.

(1) A dedicated Crown prosecutor to deal with workplace fatality and serious injury cases. This prosecutor will become an expert in reviewing these investigations against section 217.1 of the Criminal Code and therefore more accurately determining the likelihood of conviction.

(2) Trained police services on section 217.1 to ensure that the police understand the law and know what to look for in workplace fatality and serious injury cases in order to collect the best evidence to support the Crown counsel’s decision-making.

(3) Make mandatory police investigations of all workplace fatalities and serious injuries. Police investigations are necessary in order to determine if criminal negligence exists. As they are trained to collect and weigh criminal evidence, these investigations must be separate from the occupational health and safety regulatory investigations but can be done in collaboration.

(4) Train WorkSafe B.C. inspectors on section 217.1 to ensure WorkSafe inspectors conduct investigations into workplace fatality or serious injury cases and collect the best evidence to support Crown counsel decision-making.

(5) Crown and police to develop specialized policies for workplace fatality or serious injury cases similar to policies such as for domestic violence.

In 2004 Bill C-45, or the Westray bill, was enacted with unanimous support of all the parties in the parliament. This was 12 years after the tragic Westray mine disaster that took the lives of 26 miners, despite serious safety concerns raised by employees, union officials and government inspectors. The company instituted few changes, and this very preventable disaster occurred.

In B.C., on average, 150 workers die at a workplace every year. This is more than 1,350 unnecessary deaths in British Columbia since the Westray bill, and no one has been held responsible for those deaths.

This motion helps us hold those in authority accountable if they fail to protect workers’ health and safety and cause death or serious injury at the workplace. In B.C. we have many of our own Westray disasters along with all those deaths that I mentioned earlier. Babine sawmill and Lakeland sawmill explosions killed four and injured 42 others very seriously. In the Babine case no one has been held accountable so far.

Sarbjit Kaur Sidhu, Amarjit Kaur Bal and Sukhwinder Kaur Punia were farmworkers killed travelling to work in a 15-passenger van.

Mushroom farm workers Ut Tran, Han Pham, Jimmy Chi Wai Chan died, while Michael Phan and Thang Tchen were left with permanent brain damage after they were exposed to hydrogen sulfide and low oxygen conditions in a confined space.

Sam Fitzpatrick, a 24-year-old rock scaler, died while working on a construction project when a large rock rolled down a slope into his work area.

John Wilson drowned on February 28, 2008, while working near Merritt. John was working in an excavator that tumbled into a tailing pond.

Lyle Hewer, a sawmill worker, was asphyxiated in a hopper connected to a hog — a machine that converts wood waste into chips.

Then there are dozens of unknown workers who have been exposed to asbestos while working for certain asbestos and drywall removing contractors, without adequate knowledge of the risk or protection for their safety. Most of these workers were under 18, some as young as 14. They were told to run if they saw a WCB safety inspector.

These are all preventable incidents that I mentioned here. Those responsible for prevention failed, yet no one has been held accountable. We now must do our due diligence as lawmakers. It is our duty to ensure workplace accountability by giving the tools needed by our investigators to collect evidence that will be acceptable to the Crown for successful convictions.

In closing, we believe this is a necessary step to send a message to employers that their employees are not just an insignificant part of doing business. If their safety and well-being are treated with disregard, then there will be significant and costly consequences for doing so.

We have seen too many people die in the workplace because of the negligence of those who have a duty under the law to protect their health and safety. Then they fail and no consequences. As a result, there’s no deterrence. As a result, people continue to die. This will help us solve that problem and those people responsible for the health and safety of workers will be held accountable if they fail to do their duty.

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