Appeals ruling supports worker safety


TORONTO, Sept. 15, 2014 /CNW/ - A recent decision upholding a previous health and safety order regarding rescue equipment for those working in Bell Canada confined spaces will help ensure the safety of workers in the industry, Canada's largest union in the private sector says.

"We look forward to working with the company to implement this decision," said Doug Dutton, president of Unifor Local 52 and the Unifor/Bell Health & Safety Resource for Ontario.

The ruling upheld an earlier Health and Safety Inspector's Order and expanded it to apply to all confined spaces. That order requires Bell to provide the proper equipment and trained personnel to operate that equipment whenever workers are performing their duties in confined spaces.

The original complaint stemmed from a 2007 incident in which two workers died in such a confined space after they were overcome by the toxic atmosphere at the bottom of the vault, and collapsed.

Bell Canada was fined $280,000 after pleading guilty to a health and safety violation under the Canada Labour Code. The workers were employed by a company contracted with Bell to lay fibre optic cable.

That incident follows a previous incident in 1994 at the Oakville Ford plant in which a Bell worker, sent into a utility hole with a rope tied around his waist, was soon overcome by fumes. The worker was treated and released from hospital.

The order calls on Bell to ensure there are specially designed tripods at the confined space opening, with a worker present who has been trained to operate the tripod to retrieve workers should it be required.

Bell must also determine where a rescue call will be directed should something happen at the work site, must ensure responders are equipped with the specified rescue equipment and identify response times. For work in remote areas, the employer must determine whether alternative arrangements are needed.

"This is an important decision for Unifor and especially for the families and the members most affected by these tragedies. We can only hope they find some comfort in this," said Unifor Assistant to the President Dave Moffat.

Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector, representing more than 305,000 workers, including 30,000 in telecommunications. It was formed Labour Day weekend 2013 when the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union merged.