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“Kill a worker, go to jail”

“Minimal” fines laid for company responsible in deaths of London workers

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In January, East Elgin Concrete Forming and iSpan Systems LP were both fined by the Ontario Ministry of Labour, a "minimal" penalty according to unions and union activists. It's a simple slap on the wrist for these construction companies, which caused the death of two Ontario workers.

In 2020, Henry Harder, 26 and John Martens, 21 were killed tragically at their worksite, being crushed to death by the collapse of a building under construction at 555 Teeple Terrace in Woodstock, Ontario. Several other of their co-workers were injured, leading to a total of six families being affected for life by the tragedy.

Following the guilty verdict, iSpan Systems was fined $260,000 and East Elgin Concrete Forming was fined $140,000. Both being convicted of Ontario Health and Safety Act charges linked to the deadly workplace incident. A small price to pay for the deaths of two young men, workers and unions say.

Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) president Laura Walton spoke out against the Jan. 2024 ruling, in a press statement: “When we see fines like this being levied, they fall completely short. Let’s be clear, it’s just a fine. It really shows, quite frankly, that the current system is not working for workers.” The tagline "Kill a worker, Go to jail" has been a rallying point, shedding light on the severity of worker health and safety issues in the province.

“It should be ‘Kill a worker, go to jail.’ It is that simple,” Walton has been public about the OFL's views. “Until employers that are negligent are charged and facing jail time, they’re not going to recognize their responsibility.” Currently, the maximum jail time for guilty individuals and corporations responsible is no more than 12 months.  

In 2021, the construction sector led in fatalities, being responsible for 35% of all  traumatic workplace deaths in the province. Second being the Transportation and Warehousing industry at 19%, and third, Manufacturing with 13%. From 2019 to 2022, the Ontario Ministry of Labour reports that critical injuries reported in all labour sectors reportedly went up from 2115 to 2387, up by 13% in only four years, a worrying trend. With today’s technology and higher safety standards, the trend should be in the opposite direction.

Henry Harder, 26, left, and John Martens, 21, construction workers killed during building collapse in Woodstock Ontario, December 2020.
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