Fatalities underscore workplace safety concerns

Workplace fatality nets Neptune Terminals $250,000 fine

ILWU members rallied at a North Vancouver provincial courthouse Friday for the sentencing of Neptune Terminals for a 2018 workplace fatality. | Joulene Parent, ILWU

Employers in B.C., especially those in construction and heavy industry, would be wise to re-examine their workplace safety policies and supervision protocols, following what appears to have been a spike in workplace fatalities in B.C.

Companies found negligent can face heavy fines, as Neptune Terminals learned Friday.

As a result of a 2018 fatality, the company was handed a $250,000 fine, according to Rob Ashton, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU).

“The judge said that’s on the higher end,” said Ashton, who was not happy with the sentence.

“Somebody should be going to jail,” he told BIV News.

The fine stems from the death of an ILWU member, Don Jantz, in 2018, who was killed in a fall, which resulted in a number of charges against Neptune Terminals, a bulk coal and potash terminal operator in North Vancouver.

The charges included failing to ensure employee health and safety, failing to ensure machinery met safety standards, failing to respond to reports made by employees and failing to identify hazards in the workplace.

Jantz was one of two ILWU members killed on the job in 2018 in B.C., Ashton said. The other ILWU worker, Everett Cummings, died at Fraser Surrey Docks in July 2018.

In a statement released Friday after sentencing, Neptune Terminals acting president Duana Kipling, said Neptune and the ILWU conducted an investigation. Neptune admitted fault for not providing proper maintenance of equipment, which had resulted in Jantz falling to his death.

“The investigation found that Neptune had failed to ensure the health and safety of every person we employed … an offense under the Canada Labour Code,” Kipling said in the release.

“We have accepted responsibility for this in court today and hope that in doing so we can provide some closure to Mr. Jantz’s family and others affected by this incident and allow for continued healing.

“As a result of the investigation, we have made significant changes to better protect the health and safety of everyone on our site, and to ensure that such a tragedy never occurs at Neptune again.”

Friday’s sentence came down on the same day that B.C. Minister of Labour Harry Bains voiced concerns about a spate of recent workplace fatalities.

In the past four weeks alone, six workers were killed on the job, according to the Ministry of Labour. At least two of those fatalities were tree-falling accidents involving forestry workers.

In December, Trans Mountain Corp. ordered all non-essential work halted on its pipeline expansion project, while it conducted a safety review, following a serious workplace injury in December in B.C., which had followed a workplace fatality in Alberta earlier in October.

According to the Ministry of Labour, there were a total 151 deaths on the job in B.C. in 2020.

The most recent spate of fatalities – six in four weeks – prompted Bains to write WorkSafeBC to express concern.

"I have contacted the chair of WorkSafeBC to express my concern with six workers who were fatally injured on the job here in British Columbia over the past four weeks,” he said in a news release.

"Even one injury or death is one too many. These fatalities should be a strong warning to workers and employers that they must act every day to ensure health and safety in the workplace.”

According to WorkSafeBC, there were 24 workplace fatalities so far in 2021.

This includes worker deaths from occupational disease, which is the leading cause of worker deaths,” WorkSafeBC said. “This compares to 22 worker deaths in the first two months of 2020.”

WorkSafeBC says there were 150 fatality claims in 2020, compared to 140 in 2019.