Workers Health & Safety Centre

Prison sentence for manager in 2009 swing stage tragedy

Prison sentence for manager in 2009 swing stage tragedy
A project manager who oversaw a swing stage crew that fell 13 stories to their death in 2009 has been sentenced to three-and-a half years in prison.
 
In June, 2015 Vadim Kazenelson was found guilty on four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
 
According to the judge presiding over the case, Ontario Superior Court of Justice Judge Ian MacDonnell, Kazenelson was aware that adequate fall protections were not in place and still allowed the workers onto a swing stage 13 stories above the ground. The crew, employed by Metron Construction, was repairing concrete balconies on an apartment building.
 
Kazenelson was also on the swing stage when it split in two but managed to hold on to a balcony. Five workers fell 13 stories. Four were killed while one survived though suffered significant and life-altering injuries. Another worker had secured himself to one of just two safety lines on the swing stage and avoided the tragic fall.

"The seriousness of the offences committed by Mr. Kazenelson and their consequences cannot be doubted," said MacDonnell during sentencing on January 11, 2016. "A significant term of imprisonment is necessary to reflect the terrible consequences of the offences."
 
Kazenelson was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for each offence, to be served concurrently. He is appealing his conviction and has been granted bail pending that appeal.
 
Crown prosecutors had requested between four and five years while the defense argued one or two years would be appropriate.
 
“I think the judge sent an extremely strong message,” says Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) president Chris Buckley. “Every employer should be extremely concerned that profit should not trump the safety of workers and others.”
 
Though prior to this hearing, Buckley offered, “This court has the opportunity to make history by throwing Mr. Kazenelson behind bars, but justice won’t be fully served as long as only supervisors go to jail,” he said.
 
Joel Swartz, sole owner and director of Metron Construction, escaped criminal conviction. At a June, 2012 court hearing, his company did enter a guilty plea on one count of criminal negligence causing death. This guilty plea was the first by an Ontario corporation charged under the Criminal Code Bill C-45 amendments that became law in 2004. Metron was fined $750,000 plus a victim surcharge.
 
The company that supplied the swing stage, Ottawa-based Swing N Scaff Inc., was fined $350,000 for failing to ensure the platform was in good condition. A company director was fined $50,000 but escaped jail time. Both the company and the director were also directed to pay a victim surcharge.

This preventable tragedy caused shockwaves through the province, prompting a year-long review of Ontario’s health and safety system by a panel of health and safety experts led by former Deputy Labour Minister, Tony Dean.  This review, which was completed in December of 2010, made various recommendations to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations, including the establishment of a new Prevention Office within the Ministry of Labour and the swift implementation of many mandatory training regulations within 12 months. Unfortunately, most of these recommendations like training for workplace representatives in small workplaces and mandatory entry level training for workers in construction, after more than five years, have yet to be implemented by the Prevention Office. Others, including mandatory working at heights training have been just recently legislated.
 
Want to know more about the 2009 tragedy and resulting convictions?
 
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