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Disturbing death of an underage worker – hearing begins October 2010

Andrew James: underaged worker

Andrew James: underaged worker

I recently read an article describing the tragic death of a boy who was 15 years old and working as a paver for a company near Winnipeg. The company truck was dumping asphalt into a massive pile to use for various projects. The underage worker was helping unload the truck when he was hit by the entire load and buried alive under burning asphalt.

Another article noted that asphalt in this kind of truck would have been kept at a temperature around 165 degrees Celsius to ensure it stayed liquefied. Those who tried to save him burnt their hands, boots and clothing.

Apparently, this was the second summer the boy had worked with the company. That would have made him about to go into grade nine when he started this job.

The owner has been charged under Manitoba’s Employment Standards Code (for employing underage workers; those under 16 years cannot work on construction sites), and the Workplace Health and Safety Act (for failing to ensure the safety, health and welfare of workers). What’s more, there is a criminal investigation regarding the incident; the owner could also be charged under the Criminal Code for failing to safeguard workplace health and safety, and experience even more severe penalties.

What I find interesting is that the parents completely support the owner of this company.

They called the incident “a horrible, terrible freak accident”, and insisted “there is no one to blame”. They went as far as to say that the owner did the boy a favour in hiring him, as he desperately wanted to be a part of the company.

In fact, they are willing to raise money to pay his fines and argue against the pressing of criminal charges against him.

Does this make any sense?

What about the fact that there are unconfirmed reports that a latch on the truck was faulty? This may have caused the truck to empty its entire load of burning asphalt onto the boy.

Was this a “freak accident”? Could anything have been done to prevent it?

Will the owner be found liable under Manitoba’s Employment Standards Code and Workplace Health and Safety Act? And will the owner be charged under the Criminal Code?

We will know more soon, once the hearing begins in October.

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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