Block of ice nearly hit worker weeks before Bruneau's death

A few weeks before Olivier Bruneau was killed by a piece of ice while working on a Claridge construction site, a block of ice fell right next to another worker on the same site, a Radio-Canada investigation learned.

Olivier Bruneau died after an incident at a construction site in Little Italy in March 2016

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)

A few weeks before Olivier Bruneau was killed by a block of ice while working on a Claridge construction site, a slab of ice fell right next to another worker on the same site, a Radio-Canada investigation learned.

Bruneau was fatally struck by the ice on March 23, 2016, while he was working as a surveyor at the bottom of a nine-story-deep worksite in Ottawa's Little Italy neighbourhood.​

Charges against the developer, Claridge Homes, the subcontractor, Bellai Brothers Construction  Ltd., and two site supervisors were laid in March 2017 by the Ontario Ministry of Labour under the Health and Safety Act.

A trial is expected to take place next May, more than three years after Bruneau's death.

It was previously reported by CBC News that two similar accidents occurred on the same site before the worker's death in March. 

I was nervous, I was afraid to go to work. But I still wanted work, so I went there. - Worker

In December 2015, the window of an excavator's cabin was damaged by material that had plunged to the bottom of the hole. On Feb. 4, 2016, a piece of ice fell on a worker who escaped without serious injury.

Radio-Canada has now learned that another worker was nearly hit by a large slab of ice at the end of February 2016.

The incident was confirmed by a worker who said the slab — which fell off the excavation hole's south wall — was large enough to cause fatal injuries. 

The ice broke off in the same area where the other workers were hit.

"I was nervous, I was afraid to go to work. But I still wanted work, so I went there," another worker told Radio-Canada. 

CBC News and Radio-Canada are keeping the name of the workers confidential because they fear they could lose their job by speaking to the media.

De-icing services cost at least $50K

Various reports say that groundwater infiltrated through rock walls froze when exposed to cold temperatures but when the weather got warmer, the ice melted and fell. 

CBC News has also learned that the services of an Ottawa company were temporarily secured for the purpose of de-icing the walls of the excavation site.

Clean Water Works was hired as a subcontractor for Taggart, which was already working on the site for Claridge.

The company confirmed it had received calls from Taggart to de-ice certain sections of the walls during a five-week period, from Jan. 19, 2016, to Feb. 26, 2016.

The bill for de-icing services during this period was $50,000. That's not counting the amount that Taggart would also have received as a contractor.

Claridge Homes and Bellai Brothers Construction Ltd. face labour charges in connection with the death of Olivier Bruneau. (Radio-Canada)

Clean Water Works said it did not know why calls to remove ice on the job site stopped after Feb. 26. The company also claimed that prior to the CBC's call, it was unaware of any of the February incidents.

Confidential sources have told Radio-Canada that after Feb. 26, Claridge decided to do in-house ice breaking at the site.

When Olivier Bruneau died in March, there was ice on the south and west walls of the excavation site, according to the Ontario Ministry of Labour inspector's report.

Barrier removed 

A day after the Feb. 4, 2016 incident, when a piece of ice hit a worker, the Ontario Ministry Labour visited the site. 

The inspector noted in a report that Claridge had instituted a no enter policy for areas where ice may fall and would erect a fence barrier to enforce the policy.

Radio-Canada learned that the fence was no longer in place at the time of Bruneau's death in March 2016. 

The fence was removed while work was being done on the site and had not been replaced. 

Various sources told Radio-Canada that the presence of the fence would not have changed the circumstances that led to Bruneau's death because, at the time of the tragedy, he was outside the area identified as dangerous. 

An ice-removing operation on the construction site in Ottawa. (Radio-Canada)

But two union groups, the Canadian Labour Congress and the Ottawa and District Labour Council, say the oversight is further proof of the lack of concern Claridge and Bellai have for workplace safety and security. 

Bruneau's autopsy report notes that the ice on the site's walls could reach 20 metres in length.

The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act clearly states that walls of excavation sites must be cleared of unstable rocks and other material that could slip, roll or fall on workers.

The autopsy report also says that, at the time of the accident, Bruneau wore the appropriate safety equipment, including a helmet, and was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

No criminal charges

Sean McKenny, president of the Ottawa and District Labour Council, says the incidents are symptomatic of a company that "does not take health and safety seriously and is more interested in money then in the lives of workers." 

The Ottawa Police Service initiated a criminal investigation into Bruneau's death but, more than two years after the accident, no criminal charges have yet been filed.

Anthony Costantini, the police officer responsible for the investigation into the death, retired on March 1 but spoke to Radio-Canada.

"For the moment, the police lack some evidence that would allow them to lay criminal charges," he said.

In June 2017, the police officer admitted that the investigation was at a standstill, saying "no one at Claridge Homes cooperates with the police. It's [been] like that from the beginning."

The Ottawa Police Service told CBC News that the investigation is ongoing but did not say who was leading it now.

A test of the Westray federal law

Several unions say they see the criminal investigation into Bruneau's death as a test of the Westray federal law — a provision in Canada's Criminal Code that is used to crack down on employers whose negligence has resulted in workplace deaths.

Unions say the provision is not applied as often as it should. 

Despite the absence of criminal charges to date, Claridge Homes, Bellai Brothers Construction and two site supervisors, Leo Simard and Mike Lwow are facing charges under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act.

They are charged with failing to ensure that the excavation wall is clear of any material that may fall on a worker and for not taking all reasonable precautions to ensure worker safety. 

The charges were laid on March 1, 2017 by the Ontario Ministry of Labour and the trial will be held in May 2019. 

Contractors convicted of provincial offences are usually fined, but imprisonment is also possible. 

Claridge Homes and Bellai Brothers Construction refused to comment on the new revelations by CBC News and Radio-Canada. 

Bellai's lawyer says it cannot comment on the case because of the trial scheduled for next year.

"While Bellai appreciates the invitation to give its side of the story, the company is not able to respond fully to the events raised," said lawyer Jeremy Warning.

"We anticipate that all facts and circumstances of any alleged past incident and their relationship, if any, with Mr. Bruneau's accident will be considered at trial."