This originally appeared at the National Observer
On Nov. 17, 2017, a worker at the Recochem plant in Milton, Ont., tripped and fell into a plastic bottle-making machine and suffered critical and permanent injury. The bottles weren't coming out right and the worker had gone to the top of the blow moulding machine to see if the exhaust pipe was blocked.
The Ministry of Labour published these details on May 3, 2019. Recochem Inc. was charged with violating the Occupational Health and Safety Act and fined $100,000. The company pleaded guilty to not ensuring that guards and rails were in place to help keep workers from falling into dangerous machinery.
Recochem produces household and industrial chemical products, including under the brands Armor All, STP, Windex and Varsol. The Montreal-based private company is operated by members of its founding family and owned by HIG Capital, a global investment firm that has more than $30 billion in holdings.
Staff at Recochem’s Milton plant said the company will not be commenting on this decision, and then hung up. A phone number for their corporate headquarters goes to an IT department line.
Missing guards and other protective measures are a common cause of worker injury and death in Ontario. On May 9, Clean Water Works Inc. was fined $100,000 for not equipping a plant conveyor with a guard to prevent workers from being caught in a conveyor’s pinch point. On Jan. 18, 2018, a worker at Clean Water Works was pulled into the machine and suffered a permanent injury.
On April 28, Ontario Plants Propagation Ltd. in St. Thomas, Ont., was fined $55,000 for not equipping a robot in their greenhouse operation with guards. A worker who was trying to clear a lodged plant tray was pinned by the robot and injured.
On April 24, Vinyl Window Designs Ltd. in North York was fined $165,000 when a worker was killed as he was troubleshooting a problem with a machine. There were no guards or protective barriers to shield him from the machine’s moving parts.
At least three other companies were fined in 2019 for violations related to missing guards or protective devices. The Ministry of Labour only announces these infractions when the fines are large enough to warrant a public notice.
Doug Ford cuts will worsen situation
Ministry of Labour spokesperson Janet Deline said that it would require a systemic analysis to see whether a lack of guards or other protective devices were causing systemic workplace safety problems, as the ministry looks at every situation case by case. They inspect workplaces both proactively and reactively, when an incident such as a worksite injury, has been reported to the ministry.
The Ministry of Labour targets specific sectors and industries proactively to ensure that companies are adhering to health and safety regulations. And when a Ministry of Labour inspector is called in to react to an incident, Deline says that they would inspect the worksite for other potential problems of compliance.
If the inspector sees that something is not compliant, they will order that the employer fix the problem.
Aidan MacDonald, community legal worker at the Injured Workers’ Community Legal Clinic in Toronto, says that things are going to get worse for Ontario’s workers, due to decisions by Doug Ford’s government to cut funding to workers’ health and safety programs. The Progressive Conservative government is cutting the number of proactive inspections and safety inspectors, says MacDonald.
Employers will also have less oversight, as the 2019 Ontario Budget promised that employers could go online to educate themselves about their responsibilities.
“They’re really weakening the bare minimum protections that workers should have on the job. Of course the result is going to be that more people are going to be injured and killed,” said MacDonald.
Deline said that the Ministry of Labour will continue proactive and reactive investigations. “We still do the same thing we’ve done with previous governments and the current government,” said Deline. “Nothing has changed.”
With each of these injuries occurring during the mandate of the previous government, it’s perhaps that nothing has changed that makes the recent cuts to health and safety even worse. At the Injured Workers’ Community Legal Clinic, MacDonald says that nearly everyone who comes into his clinic has a workplace injury that’s permanent.
“The workers’ compensation system is doing its best to not recognize permanent injuries because permanent injuries are the ones that cost the system the most. The people who actually need the most support often get treated the worst,” says MacDonald. This causes a downward spiral where injured workers may lose their homes, suffer strained relationships with families and develop mental health injuries.
“It’s a cascading effect that devastates peoples’ lives,” he said.
The Ford government has also reduced employer premiums to the Workers’ Compensation and Insurance Board, making it even harder for people to access benefits. And, the government’s 30 per cent cut to legal aid funding is going to devastate clinics that work on behalf of injured workers, like the Injured Workers’ Community Legal Clinic.