Accused in death of construction worker, company linked to death of other workers

On Thursday, May 25, the Ontario Court of Justice will hear the case surrounding Oliver Bruneau's death at a Preston Street construction site in March 2016. Radio-Canada has learned that two of the parties accused of breaking Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act have already been fined in the deaths of other workers.

Olivier Bruneau died in March 2016 when he was struck by a large chunk of ice

Olivier Bruneau, 24, died after being hit by a chunk of ice at a construction site on Preston Street in Ottawa on March 23, 2016. (Facebook)

Olivier Bruneau, 24, died in March 2016, when a large chunk of ice struck him.

The ice had detached itself from a nine-storey deep excavation wall where he was working on Preston Street in Ottawa.

Olivier Bruneau's employer, Bellai Brothers Construction Ltd., and his supervisor, Léo Simard, are among those accused of failing to take all reasonable precautions to prevent the accident.

A look back at workplace accidents over the past 20 years, from 1996 to 2016, revealed Bellai Brothers Construction and Simard were convicted of offences related to the death of another worker.

Two other deaths

The incident occurred in 1996 when a 38-year-old cement worker, Jesus Revilla, fell 13 metres to his death. Crews had been building silos for a factory near Perth, about an hour's drive south-west of Ottawa.
A photo of the Preston Street construction site Olivier Bruneau was working at in March of 2016. (Scott Stilborn/Ottawa Fire Services)

The Court of Ontario found a number of safety deficiencies at the time. For example, there were no guardrails around the platform he was working on.

The Court ruled that "none of the defendants have shown anywhere near the amount of diligence that could be considered reasonable and due." Bellai Brothers Construction and Simard, among others, were fined.

The construction company was also fined in the death of another worker, which also occurred in 1996.

One of the company's truckers, 59-year-old Aurèle Rochon, died when a poorly secured drum rolled off the trailer and struck him as he unloaded a truck.

Bellai Brothers Construction was also fined for workplace accidents that occurred in 2007 and 2008.

In both cases, employees were injured when they fell about four meters. In both cases, the absence of protective measures was noted.

The company and Léo Simard declined to comment on their health and safety record.

Their lawyer, Harold P. Rolph, sent the following message: "Given that recent charges brought under the Occupational Health and Safety Act are before the court and that the case will be judged by it, we do not think it's appropriate to comment on the tragic accident that gave rise to these accusations. Bellai and Simard both deeply regret the death of Olivier Bruneau and have expressed their deepest condolences to his family."

The construction industry makes up seven per cent of the province's workforce, but accounts for 30 per cent of the traumatic fatalities in Ontario workplaces. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

No Ontario registry

It is difficult to determine how the health and safety record of Bellai Brothers Construction compares to other companies.

The Ontario Ministry of Labor says it is not the way it tracks workplace fatalities. In an email, a ministry spokesperson wrote: "Information is tracked for purposes of conducting workplace investigations and as a result, MOL does not track whether the number of fatalities at a particular workplace is exceptional or normal."

Nor does the ministry keep a public registry of offences by company, the way, for example, Alberta does.

Radio-Canada used the Access to Information Act to obtain the information for this story.

The courts themselves do not appear to have full access to each company's complete history.

Radio-Canada also asked for Claridge Homes' past convictions. It is the other company accused of violating the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the death of Olivier Bruneau.

According to court documents, Claridge Homes was found guilty in 2005 of breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act because the company had failed to install adequate guardrails on several floors of a building that was under construction.

Two years later, in 2007, Claridge Homes was in court for a similar offence and fined.

However, when making that decision, the court noted that the company had no prior convictions, suggesting it was not aware of the fine imposed two years earlier.

Province reacts

Radio-Canada asked the Ontario Ministry of Labour if it planned to create a registry of workplace fatalities by employer.

The ministry says that much of that information is available now online through the provincial government's "open data catalogue."  

Upon checking, that tool does not contain information on companies and their workplace fatalities.

The ministry recognizes, however, that the construction industry remains particularly dangerous.

The industry, which makes up just seven per cent of the province's workforce, accounts for 30 per cent of the traumatic fatalities in Ontario workplaces.

Translated by Sherry Aske