May 12, 2017 at 5:00 PM
Nearly four years after the May 30, 2013 crash in Moosonee that took the lives of Unifor 2002 members Chris Snowball and Dustin Dagenais, the trial against Ornge is finally underway.
In April, Ornge faced 17 charges under the Canada Labour Code (CIRB) for failing to provide safe working conditions for its employees. Most of these charges were laid under Section 148 which makes it an offence to contravene the occupational health and safety provisions of the Code.
The June 2016 Transportation Safety Board (TSB) report (noted as the longest investigation in Canadian history) concluded that the helicopter's descent was not detected by the pilots because of the darkness and the lack of visual cues outside of the cockpit. The TSB also stated that the cause of the accident went far beyond the actions of the captain and co-pilot. The report noted that Ornge did not have experienced personnel to run its helicopter operations; that operating procedures were inadequate and that the two pilots lacked experience flying at night and in instrument conditions. The TSB report also revealed that Transport Canada inspectors knew of the issues at Ornge but decided not to shut them down. Instead Transport Canada opted for a more lenient approach that allowed the unsafe conditions to continue.
Because the two pilots were covered under federal law, the TSB took sole responsibility for the investigation, even though the two Unifor paramedics were provincially regulated employees. But the TSB report essentially referred to the paramedics as 'passengers' and did not consider that they were workers who lost their lives while performing their jobs.
Unifor met with Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn and several of his staff this week about why an Ontario investigation into the deaths of these Unifor workers did not take place. Unifor’s position is that it is not too late to investigate and that an investigation could uncover additional information that will strengthen protections for workers in the future.
Unifor 2002 bargaining committee members, Chuck Telky and Mike Chad, along with Health and Safety representative, Mark Etherington presented concerns about health and safety culture playing second fiddle to employer imposed operational requirements. They were joined at the meeting by National Staff Representative Kelly-Anne Orr, National Health and Safety Coordinator Ken Bondy, Director of Health Care Andy Savela, and Assistant to the National President, Katha Fortier.
At the conclusion of the one-hour meeting, Minister Flynn committed to work in cooperation with our union to ensuring that everything possible has been done to ensure a safe work environment for paramedics who work in air transportation. Unifor was pleased with the collaboration of everyone involved and that we were able to have and open and honest dialogue concerning this most tragic accident. The safety and well-being of our members and the general public is paramount each and every day.
Unifor is following the trial and will continue to push for answers from the Ontario government. Unifor will also be watching to see what agencies will inevitably be responsible for what may have been preventable deaths at Ornge.
For more information, please contact:
Ashley Watkins, Assistant to the Local President
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