A tragic construction accident in Toronto that killed four workers and seriously injured another has raised questions over the safety of the worksite as well as the legal status of the workers.
On Dec. 24, 2009, five immigrant workers were working on repairs of a privately-owned highrise building in Toronto. The men were on a type of scaffolding called a swing stage, which was a platform on the outside of the building suspended across two balconies. The swing stage was about 12 stories up when it broke in two. Aleksey Blumberg, 33, Fayzullo Fazilov, 31, Alexander Bondorev, 25, and Vladimir Korostin, 40, fell to their deaths. A fifth man on the platform, 21-year-old Dilshod Marupov, was left dangling from the platform. Marupov is in critical condition and faces months of rehabilitation from his injuries.
The Toronto Building Division immediately posted a stop-work order at the site, suggesting two of the swing stage’s four sections were only held in place by a single anchor, creating unsafe conditions. An investigation has been launched by the Ontario Ministry of Labour, the City of Toronto and Toronto police to determine the cause of the accident. The wife of one of the workers killed and the Toronto and York Region Labour Council have also called for a public inquiry.
Since contractor Metron Construction began work on the building in August, government inspectors have stopped work twice with safety concerns. In October, Metron was ordered to add wire mesh on top of the swing stage’s railing and guardrails to the swing stage’s rooftop installation. In December, it was told to add guardrails to a work platform used to gain access to the swing stage. In each case, Metron complied with the order and work quickly resumed.
However, investigators are trying to determine whether the workers were wearing safety harnesses while on the swing stage. Irinia Cherniakova, Korostin’s wife, told the Toronto Sun she was told there were only two safety lines for six men on the swing stage. Her husband fell because he wasn’t wearing one, she said.
Another aspect of the tragedy investigators are trying to determine is whether the workers were even legally able to work in Canada. Metron was the general contractor for the site and the five men, four of whom were Russian and one who was a refugee claimant from Uzbekistan, were subcontractors.
This raises the issue of exploitation of immigrant workers and the lack of safety as a priority in the underground construction industry, said John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council.
“Our suspicion is that it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Cartwright told the Toronto Star.
Metron said it was trying to reach out to the families of the workers and it would help out with funeral costs.
Correction: The highrise building was initially identified as owned by Toronto Community Housing, but is in fact privately owned by 2058876 Ontario Ltd.
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