I was totally angered to see the final results of the tragic death of a 15 year boy on a paving site in Manitoba. Again, the governments of some of our sister provinces do not fully comprehend their responsibilities to protect their workers from future accidents such as this one.
The owner of a Manitoba paving company has been fined thousands of dollars for a workplace accident in which a 15-year-old boy was buried under hot asphalt. A judge has sentenced Gerald Shepell of Interlake Paving to pay $33,500 in the death of Andrew James in July 2008. Shepell pleaded guilty to numerous non-criminal charges under workplace and safety regulations, including employing under-age workers. He faced a maximum fine of $180,000, but Shepell’s lawyer had asked that the penalty not exceed $30,000. Shepell will pay $500 a month until the fine is paid off. It all amounts to a slap on the wrist as far as I am concerned.
The teen died instantly when he became trapped in asphalt that had spilled from a truck at a former Manitoba Hydro substation in Stony Mountain. Several co-workers, including Shepell, desperately tried to save the teen after he apparently lost his footing while shovelling asphalt from a trailer box into a back-hoe scoop. The company was dumping the paving material into a massive pile to use for various projects around town when the accident occurred. Provincial law requires all construction site employees to be at least 16 unless a special permit has been granted. Shepell admitted James began working for him when he was just 14, along with another boy who was 13.
In Ontario, ignorance of the law is no defense. A very large fine is a great deterrent and MUST be meted out to dissuade further attempts by employers to circumvent the law by placing our children on work-sites. Most children 15 years of age, (or older for that matter) would ask the questions, “How much am I going to make, and how many hours am I going to work.” They would start their working career believing that the employer has their back. “The employer is doing everything possible, and legally, to protect me,” they would think. In Ontario this tragedy would have generated an extremely large fine and the MOL would have promoted dialogue on the subject to determine corrective action.
It was also not reported if a ‘Coroner’s Inquest’ was initiated. In Ontario, the construction and mining sectors warrant an automatic Coroner’s Inquest if an occupational accident, causing a death, occurs. In the other main sectors, Industrial Establishments and Healthcare, ‘Coroner’s Inquests’ are optional.
Remember — In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”
‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.
Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer