Roofer jailed for repeated safety violations faces another charge

A Nova Scotia contractor who became the first person jailed in the province for failing to keep workers safe on the job is again accused of breaking the rules, less than three months after his stint behind bars.

Joseph Isnor sentenced to 15 days in jail for failing to make sure employees working at heights were safe

Since 2013, 32 people have died on the job in Nova Scotia. (Benoit Daoust/Shutterstock)

A Nova Scotia contractor who became the first person jailed in the province for failing to keep workers safe on the job is again accused of breaking the rules, less than three months after his stint behind bars.

Joseph Isnor was sentenced to 15 days in jail in May after he repeatedly failed to ensure his employees were using proper fall protection while working for his company, United Roofing Inc.

CBC News has learned the 46-year-old man is due back in court Nov. 30 after he was charged with the same Occupational Health and Safety Act offence, this time related to an August allegation at a worksite in Herring Cove.

"He's received a jail sentence and it hasn't worked," said Alex Keaveny, the province's special prosecutor for workplace accidents. If Isnor is found guilty, he said, "it's going to be — in his case — presumably longer and longer jail sentences."

Jail time not the answer

Isnor did not respond to CBC's request for comment, but a fellow contractor handed a 60-day sentence last month after a death on his worksite said he agrees jail time is appropriate for employers who purposely put workers' safety at risk.

The problem, said David Busk Sr., is that accidents can happen on large worksites even when all the rules are being followed.

Since 2013, 32 people have died on the job in Nova Scotia. Seventeen of those deaths occurred in 2013, which led to a provincial safety blitz. There were five deaths in 2014, eight in 2015 and two, so far, in 2016.

There's been two deaths on Busk's watch. He was fined $25,000 and handed 200 hours of community service following the 2010 death of Craig MacNamara, who fell from a roof in Bedford.

Last month, Busk became the second person in Nova Scotia jailed for safety offences after his worker, Shaun Patrick McInnis, fell 12 metres from the roof of a Clayton Park apartment building in 2013 and died.

"Don't get me wrong, I don't think that jail is a bad thing for people who just don't want to follow the rules," said Busk, owner of Truss Worthy Framing and Renovations Ltd. "I just don't think it's the right place to put somebody who has been following the rules."

'You can't be everywhere'

Busk said he takes great care to ensure his employees are well-trained for working at heights, and even pays for their training out of his own pocket. 

McInnis, a 47-year-old father of three, was working as a foreman installing roofing at a four-storey Lacewood Drive building when he fell. The court heard he was wearing a safety harness but it wasn't secured to the roof. 

Shaun Patrick McInnis, 47, died in May 2013 after falling four storeys from a roof he was working on in Clayton Park.

McInnis was pronounced dead in hospital.

"You can't be everywhere," said Busk. "I hire competent people to do it. Shaun was a competent guy with 25 years of experience in the industry. He wasn't a 17-year-old kid."

In his Oct. 28 decision against Busk, Dartmouth provincial court Judge Patrick Curran said workers die far too often as the result of falls. Curran said he wanted "to impose a sentence which brings it home to everybody," considering McInnis was the second person to die on one of Busk's worksites.

Curran went on to say that even though the victim "had some degree of responsibility" it doesn't "in any sense relieve a person in Mr. Busk's position from having a greater and overriding degree of responsibility."

Human complacency often to blame 

Scott Nauss, speaking for the Department of Labour, said human complacency is one reason why there have been so many people injured on the job.
 
"Employees need to be held to a standard that's set out by the employer and sometimes that's not always the case," he said.

However, he said employers are increasingly heeding advice aimed at preventing deaths of people working at heights, particularly after the safety blitz launched in 2013.

"It's fair to say we are starting to see a trend towards more and more compliance."

He said part of the success is getting more calls from the public, reporting unsafe working conditions to the department's 24-hour, toll-free number (1-800-952-2687).

Shifting the onus

In Isnor's case, Keaveny said the contractor was undeterred by lesser punishments he received for repeated safety violations prior to his sentence in May. Fines were not paid on time and safety presentations Isnor was ordered to complete were left undone.

The threat of incarceration, however, "for someone who's never been to jail before, is no laughing matter," he said.

Foreman Shaun McInnis died after falling from the roof at the Ashby Mears apartment complex at 295 Lacewood Dr. in Halifax in May 2013. (CBC)

Busk, who is spending his weekends in jail, said he believes workers who flout the rules should be fined, providing the employer has done their due diligence. The fine should be "something that would really hurt them."

With as many as five worksites operating at once and 22 employees, Busk said the blame should not fall squarely on his shoulders.

"I can't hold 22 hands, so I want to know what I'm supposed to do to not make that happen again."

Alan Fraser, 21, died in 2013 after falling from roof of six-storey building under construction in Clayton Park. (Submitted by Fraser family)

About the Author

Cassie Williams

Reporter/Editor

Seasick marine biologist, turned journalist. I live in Halifax. You can reach me at cassandra.williams@cbc.ca