February 18, 2011
Two companies fined in Calgary girl’s death from falling debris
An Alberta provincial court judge has fined two companies responsible for the death of a toddler crushed by falling building materials.
The seemingly low amount of the fine — $15,000 — is because the circumstances of the accident fall under a general provincial safety statute rather than occupational health and safety legislation.
“I think there is no amount of money that will appease someone who has lost a three-year-old child,” said Calgary Construction Association executive vice-president Dave Smith.
“It’s a no-win situation in terms of the judge’s decision.”
Provincial Court Judge Gerry Meagher levied the maximum $15,000 penalty against Flynn Canada and Germain Residences for violating the Alberta Safety Code Act in connection with the death in 2009 of Michelle Krsek. The companies will also pay a $2,250 surcharge.
A charge against a third company, Grenville Germain Calgary Ltd., was withdrawn.
All three companies had previously pleaded not guilty to one count each of allowing an unsafe condition.
An intense wind storm on Aug. 1 2009, caused an individual piece of metal roofing material and a 500-pound bundle of five sheets to fall from the Le Germain building in downtown Calgary.
Court documents revealed Flynn didn’t properly secure the building materials to the roof of the Le Germain project when employees left the site July 27.
“The inquiry found that of the seven one-inch screws used to secure the 500-pound-plus pile of sheet metal, only four penetrated the roof surface,” said Gaven Howe, president and CEO of Howe Brand Communications.
“So, someone was using screws too short, was in a hurry, or did not have the training to think through what might go wrong. Under what scenarios could these sheets become deadly missiles?”
The metal roofing material fell 22 storeys and hit a group of people on the sidewalk across the street on 9th Avenue.
Krsek was killed instantly. Her father, Miroslav, was knocked unconscious and critically injured and her seven-year-old brother, Eric, was also injured.
According to the agreed statement of facts, Germain and Flynn staff failed to undertake an inspection of the roof.
“Years of experience in the trade would have served to educate journeymen, and veterans, so they would normally take the time, material and energy to do this safety job, right, once,” said Howe, who is currently undertaking a PhD on the topic of apprentices, ratios and compulsory trades.
“But what if it was an apprentice, a new worker, and given it was most likely quitting time, who was supervising this junior worker? The apprentice or young worker who installed these seven screws may not have known any better and perhaps did not even consider the stack of metal as a risk at all.”
In passing sentence, Judge Meagher said that the penalties for these violations are insignificant and woefully inadequate. Municipal Affairs Minister Hector Goudreau agreed that the fines were not high enough and need to be reviewed.
“The Ministry of Municipal Affairs is undertaking a review of the (Alberta Safety Code) Act, and more effective fines and enforcement is one of the key areas being looked at,” said Barrie Harrison, spokesperson with the Ministry of Employment and Immigration.
In contrast to the $15,000 maximum fine for an Alberta Safety Codes Act conviction, the maximum penalty under the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act is $500,000 and/or a six-month jail term for a first offence.
“From an OH&S perspective, we conducted the investigation and handed the file over to Crown prosecutors,” said Harrison. “The Crown prosecutor determined it was not appropriate to lay charges, under the OH&S Act because workers were not involved.”
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