(Canadian OH&S News) — A recent ruling has deemed that a mechanic working on the Evergreen Line — an extension of Metro Vancouver’s SkyTrain transit system — was let go from his job because he had raised safety concerns and refused to perform unsafe tasks.
In the 28-page decision, dated Aug. 26, WorkSafeBC ruled that SNC-Lavalin and SELI Canada had discriminated against David Britton in terminating his employment in construction of the Line’s tunnel on Nov. 3, 2014. Although the employers claimed that Britton’s work on the Line had been completed, Britton charged that they had punished him for reporting safety issues and refusing to certify a refuge chamber and then lied about the reasons for his dismissal.
“I conclude the worker was not laid off by the employers for lack of availability of work for the conveyor mechanics,” wrote Doug MacDonald, WorkSafeBC’s investigations legal officer for its Compliance Section, in the decision, “but rather was dismissed, at least in part, for concerns he had expressed about the refuge chamber readiness… and so the worker’s case succeeds.”
“Fortunately, for once, justice has been done,” Britton told COHSN about the decision.
Britton explained that in July 2014, refuge-chamber manufacturer Minearc sent a mining engineer to train him in maintaining the chamber, and they found several problems. Although the chamber required certain parts, including a cartridge to convert carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide, the employers did not purchase them.
“I kept reminding them, ‘We need this.’ I reported this at joint occupational health and safety meetings,” said Britton. “Meanwhile, increasingly, pressure’s being put on me to certify this chamber. And I’m saying, ‘Guys, I’m not going to certify this chamber unless it can perform to its design function.’”
Eventually, Britton received the needed parts and signed off on the chamber’s readiness. “Three days after I signed that, they fired me,” he said, adding that not long afterwards, “they then brought up the same mining engineer, who trained two temporary foreign workers, who were literally certain to do exactly as they were told, to perform my job.”
SNC-Lavalin did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment before press time.
Britton said that his supervisor had been a temporary foreign worker from Italy who did not speak either of Canada’s official languages; this had made communication extremely difficult in a dangerous work environment. In both April and August 2014, SNC-Lavalin and SELI cited this supervisor for unsafe work, yet he was never demoted.
“He worked as though no safety regulations existed and was therefore one of the most flagrant abusers of WorkSafeBC regulations,” said Britton. “I wouldn’t have taken the job on had I known I’d be working for such a dangerous supervisor.”
Britton cited an incident in the summer of 2014 in which his supervisor had climbed inside a “rock box”, a closed structure that sometimes contains noxious gases, without wearing a harness or having a colleague posted below. Frustrated that his previous reports of unsafe practices had been ignored, Britton took a photo, which a passing safety officer immediately demanded from him.
“I’ve numerous other photographs and documents showing multiple safety violations throughout my employment,” said Britton.
But following the report, he said, his co-workers from Italy began to harass and bully him. “They were told I had taken the photograph,” said Britton, claiming that one colleague had prematurely released one end of a 25-kilogram piece of concrete pipe, seemingly on purpose; the pipe severely jarred his arm and hand.
Although WorkSafeBC’s recent ruling was in his favour, Britton had criticisms of the written decision. “I believe MacDonald chose to rule on the ‘low-hanging fruit’ because recognizing and exposing temporary-foreign-worker selection malpractices… and a disingenuous safety manager… would infuriate many powerful people and could jeopardize MacDonald’s career,” he speculated in a subsequent e-mail.
B.C. Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger called SNC-Lavalin’s conduct “reprehensible” in a press release on Sept. 8.
“These are serious violations, and the penalties for SNC should be severe,” said Lanzinger. “This decision will encourage other workers to speak out about unsafe workplaces in the face of employer efforts to silence them.”
Britton is not the only worker on the Evergreen Line who has been dismissed after bringing up safety concerns and refusing unsafe work. Crane operator Julio Serrano also has a case before WorkSafeBC.
“I refused unsafe work, reported many unsafe conditions for more than a year to SNC-Lavalin, and then I phoned WorkSafeBC many, many times,” said Serrano.
He said he had refused to operate a crane last year after the employer had removed the limit switch. After Serrano met with WorkSafeBC on Dec. 3, the latter did an investigation and shut down the crane.
“On December 19, when I showed up to work, I saw that my name had been removed from the schedule,” he said. “I was told: ‘We have three shifts, we have four crane operators. We don’t need four, so you’re being laid off.’
“There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t make sense to us.”