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Beer bearers scolded for unsafe delivery practices

TORONTO (Canadian OH&S News)


TORONTO (Canadian OH&S News)

Workers who spend their days hauling metal barrels of liquid gold around downtown Toronto are going to have to find a way to do the job safer, a recent ruling from the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) has indicated.

The labour board has thrown out an appeal by Steam Whistle brewery to have eight orders from the Ministry of Labour suspended, after ministry ergonomist Sue Clouse-Jensen went for a ride-along with a delivery driver from the Toronto-based beer maker and saw a number of unsafe practices.

According to a decision from the board, Clouse-Jensen had observed the driver lifting and lowering 13 kegs, each weighing about 65 kilograms, as well as two 40-kilogram kegs, one of which had to be carried up a flight of stairs. In total, the decision noted, about 1,800 kilograms of product were loaded into the vehicle the day she went for the ride-along.

This, the ergonomist found, exceeded the maximum acceptable weights for lifting, lowering and carrying by 75 per cent of the male population, making the worker three times more susceptible to a lower back injury than other workers, the decision noted. Steam Whistle was issued eight orders necessitating they ensure the work is done “in such a way and with such precautions as to not endanger a worker,” and that the company would submit a compliance plan for each task.

Company put in request to suspend orders

Subsequently, Steam Whistle put in a request to suspend the orders, arguing that it had been delivering kegs for 12 years and had never submitted a Workplace Safety & Insurance Board claim for an injury related to delivery work, despite drivers hauling 45,000 kegs last year alone. The company explained that it hires its drivers on the basis of their ability to life the heavy loads and it provides ongoing training on safe work practices.

And Steam Whistle’s delivery service, it added, is an integral part of its customer service and, if forced to discontinue it, would put the company at a competitive disadvantage when compared to other breweries in the city which had not been inspected by the ministry.

An individual working for Steam Whistle has also put in an appeal of the orders, which was not addressed by the board in the decision.

“Having considered the submissions filed by Steam Whistle in support of its request, I am not satisfied that Steam Whistle has established the factual underpinning it requires to secure a suspension of the Orders pending a determination of the appeal on its merits,” wrote board vice-president Lee Shouldice.

“It is not necessary to wait for a catastrophic injury to occur before it can be determined that one or more activities puts the health and safety of workers at risk,” Shouldice said in dismissing the application, adding that almost any time an order is issued, the recipient could argue that their competitors were being given a competitive advantage.

“If competitive disadvantage were to be a significant factor in a suspension request application, every order made by an inspector would be subject to suspension as a matter of course,” he added.

Matt Blajer, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour, said there was no plan to check into the work practices of other breweries in the province.

“It was not part of any overall blitz or campaign or anything like that. It was a proactive visit and [musculoskeletal injuries] are always on our lists,” he said.

No one from Steam Whistle was available to comment on the orders.

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