(Canadian OH&S News) — A contracting company in the Calgary region is facing several oh&s charges, following a July incident in which a 14-year-old employee fell nearly four metres from a residential roof.
The operators of Vital Contracting Ltd., based in Airdrie, Alta., will appear in court in Red Deer on Dec. 19 to answer to a count of inappropriately employing a person younger than 15 years old, as well as charges of failing to train a worker in fall protection and develop a fall protection plan. The company is also accused of failing to ensure the safety of a worker, supervise the worker competently and keep employment records.
The incident occurred in Lacombe, a city located between Edmonton and Red Deer. The injured boy survived the fall, but was briefly hospitalized.
According to Brookes Merritt, communications representative with Alberta’s Ministry of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, this particular case is notable because it involves two areas of oh&s that are notoriously risk-prone: jobs involving young workers, and tasks requiring fall protection. Vital Contracting is being prosecuted under both the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Employment Standards Code.
“What we have here is a confluence of two of the most concerning elements of workplace legislation,” said Merritt. “They both present risk to a segment of the workforce that is at high risk already, and they’re both preventable.”
Merritt added that charges under Alberta’s Employment Standards Code are relatively rare. “We don’t often see or encounter situations in which it appears young people are being employed inappropriately, and when we do, we take it very seriously,” he pointed out. “These are the first charges laid under the employment standards legislation in the province of Alberta since 2009. It is certainly the first time in recent memory that we are laying charges under the ES Act and the OHS Act against a single employer.”
But the province has already dealt with controversy over its child labour standards this year. On July 19, 15-year-old Christopher Lawrence, an employee of Arjon Construction Ltd., was killed when he became entangled in a conveyor at a worksite near Wintering Hills. Two days after this incident, Siobhan Vipond, secretary treasurer for the Alberta Federation of Labour, charged in a press release that the province was “one of the most unsafe places for young people to work.”
But fatalities among young workers in Alberta are relatively rare, with no deaths of workers aged 15 to 17 in the province in 2012 and 2013. A 19-year-old was killed in a workplace incident in 2012 and an 18-year-old was killed the following year.
Different industries in Alberta have different minimum ages for youth employment, Merritt explained. “The cut-off age is 15 for working in construction,” he said. “We see elevated risk when you’re talking about young people, who are already one of the most risk-prone areas of the workforce, oftentimes due to inexperience.” Lack of fall protection is another common risky behaviour, he added. “So those two together send off a lot of red flags, and our prosecutorial team acted relatively quickly to pursue the matter.
“It’s serious, and certainly, we would allege that this type of stuff can’t be allowed to go on.”
Vital Contracting could face a fine of up to $100,000 if found guilty of contravening the Employment Standards Code. In addition, a first offence under the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act could carry a fine of up to $500,000 and/or up to six months in prison.