Witnesses explain safety regulations, fall prevention in joint roofing inquest

The joint inquest into the deaths of three Ontario roofers began Monday in Chatham.

About 14 witnesses are expected

Michael Maukonen's family brought a jersey from a memorial game played in his honour. It sits in the courtroom with a photo of Maukonen. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

A jury of five will examine the circumstances under which three men died in separate roofing projects. 

Michael Maukonen, 19, died in June 2016 after falling from a roof in December 2015. John Janssens, 73, died in January 2016 and William Swan, 56, died in May 2017.

The jury, and presiding coroner Dr. Elizabeth Urbantke, heard Monday from witnesses about health and safety protocols.

One of those witnesses was Philomena Savoia, formerly with the Ministry of Labour, who walked the jury through existing safety protocols in the roofing industry.

Savoia also outlined the responsibilities of both the employer and the employee. According to Savoia, there is practical training which could help roofers know what to do and when, but getting companies to comply is difficult. 

"If someone has the answer to [how], they'd make a lot of money," said Savoia, suggesting a variety of sources checking in to make sure protocols are followed.

No concerns on the job site

Fred Harris, a supervisor at Dayus Roofing, said Maukonen was a hard worker, who showed up even when he was sick. He was a young man with a lot of potential, according to Harris, who was also Maukonen's uncle.

Michael Maukonen was 19 when he died after falling during a roof construction project. (Submitted by Jocelyn Harris)

The crew were working on their sixth townhouse when Maukonen fell. About six people were part of the crew and Maukonen was the youngest at 19.

Harris described hearing the sound of Maukonen falling to the jury, and that he called 911 immediately and followed instructions from the call operators as he waited for the paramedics.

Maukonen was family

Frank Dayus Sr., owner of Dayus Roofing, said his company has a good reputation. The business had been around for almost 100 years.

While holding back tears, the owner said you expect family to come home after work, and that Maukonen was family.

As for Harris, it took him two years to get back on a roof.

"It's hard to be 100 per cent," said Harris. "This is horrible. It's why I don't do it anymore."

Harris said every roof is different, but that Maukonen may have simply lost his footing, or possibly not had his harness on.

"Mikey may have forgotten for a second," Harris said about the harness, which he described as being hard to work with and put on.

Circumstances around the deaths of three men will be examined at a joint roofing inquest in Chatham. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Const. Cory Bell, one of the first responders, told the jury that he didn't believe the harness showed any wear or damage, but said he wasn't trained in fall prevention, so he couldn't be sure.

No motivation to follow the rules

Dayus Sr. said Harris led the company's safest crew and there were no reported problems on the work site, but said that the Occupational Health and Safety Act is hard to follow.

He also said roofers have no fear for motivation to follow the rules. 

According to Dayus Sr., homeowners have no liability when it comes to worker safety.

'I loved him very much'

Maukonen's sister Jocelyn Harris remembers her brother fondly.

She told jurors that her brother was driven towards his goals and set a good example.

"Even if he's not with us [anymore], we remember him," said Jocelyn. "I loved him very much."

With files from Stacey Janzer