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OPINION: Time to stop the killing

Published on

George Mathewson

Bluewater Power linesman Mike Leach was working to repair storm damage on Passingham Drive on Oct. 31, 2012, when something went horribly wrong.

He and a co-worker had cleared tree limbs broken in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and were beginning to work on a downed hydro line in Bright’s Grove.

Leach, who was in the aerial bucket on a boom truck, called down to his co-worker on the ground to ask for a pair of rubber glove. While his partner headed to the cab to retrieve the gloves the truck shook, the boom dropped, and Leach was electrocuted to death.

Both workers had 20-plus years experience, and both were trained on the importance of wearing insulating rubber gloves at all times when working in an aerial bucket, the Ontario Labour Ministry said.

But they did not, as required, assess the situation and create a job plan. Nor had they held the usual “tailboard conference,” which is a planning session to review the job plan and identify hazards.

Why? They were anxious to restore power to the community, the surviving worker said in a statement.

On May 25, Bluewater Power pled guilty to failing, as an employer, to ensure the workers performed a documented job plan before doing the repairs. The utility was fined $120,000 in Sarnia court, plus a 25% victim surcharge.

Ironically, the same day Bluewater Power was in court Sarnia council was calling for tougher sanctions against corporations found negligent in workplace accidents.

Council unanimously backed a United Steelworkers initiative that’s pressuring Canada’s justice system to use the existing law to impose stiffer penalties on companies for serious worker injuries and death.

Changes to the Criminal Code, called the Westray Amendments, were approved after 26 miners died in an explosion at Nova Scotia’s Westray Mine. No individual or corporation was ever successfully prosecuted for the deaths.

Under the Westray Amendments, corporations convicted of criminal negligence can be hit with unlimited fines, and company executives sent to prison.

Yet, over the past decade only a handful of successful prosecutions have followed, with relatively minor sentences.

Frankly, I don’t know whether Justice of the Peace Anna Hampson got it right in sentencing Bluewater Power for Mike Leach’s tragic and clearly preventable death. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what the company did or didn’t do.

But I do know the number of workplace deaths has been going up, not down. Every year 900 Canadians are killed at work, giving our country one of the worst safety records in the developed world.

When corporate executives and directors wantonly put profit ahead of lives they should be held criminally accountable, and the worst offenders sent to jail.

Council got it right. The law is on the books. It’s time it was enforced.



























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