Ministry of Labour lays charges in Claridge construction site death

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Steelworkers union calls for criminal charges in death of Olivier Bruneau

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has laid charges in the death of Olivier Bruneau, 25, who was killed nearly a year ago after a giant chunk of ice broke off the wall of a construction pit and struck him. 

Provincial investigators have charged developer Claridge Homes, Bellai Brothers Construction Ltd., as well as two supervisors.

The corporations and their supervisors — Michael Lwow from Claridge and Leo Simard of Bellai Brothers — are accused of failing to ensure the health and safety of workers and failing to employ proper safety measures and procedures.

There are a total of eight charges, with each defendant facing two labour code offences: 

- Failing to ensure a wall of an excavation was stripped of loose rock or other material that may slide, roll or fall upon a worker.

- Failing to protect a worker from the hazard of falling ice.

The ministry's charge sheet also states the supervisors failed to ensure employees work with the "protective devices, measures and procedures required," and also failed to "take every precaution reasonable" to protect employees.

Ice stretched more than halfway down pit

Bruneau was working on the Claridge Icon condominium site at 485 Preston St. when he was killed. Icon, at a planned 45 storeys, was to become the tallest condominium tower in the capital.

On March 23, 2016, Bruneau, a surveyor employed by Bellai Brothers, was measuring the foundation at the bottom of a 30-metre-deep pit when ice broke off the excavation walls.

Video taken that day shows ice stretching more than halfway down the pit. Paramedics who responded to the call estimate Bruneau was struck by ice chunks weighing up to 45 kilograms.

A crane was used to help firefighters lift Bruneau out of the pit. He lost vital signs before being rushed to hospital.

Christian Bruneau, the victim's father, said the impact of the ice crushed his son's ribs and punctured his lungs. After his son's death, Christian Bruneau, along with the Ottawa District and Labour Council, advocated for a police investigation along with a workplace fatality investigation.

Police investigation stalled

Ottawa police launched a criminal probe last June but it has been stalled because investigators are facing difficulties speaking to all the witnesses. So far, Bellai Brothers employees have been interviewed but Claridge staff have yet to agree on a date to be interviewed, according to investigators.

Bruneau said he expected the criminal investigation into his son's death to be challenging and urges all workers at the site to speak with police.

"Every worker at the site should come and see police investigators and disclose the information that they have. They should do this not for Olivier, but for themselves, because they could be the next ones suffering."

A CBC News investigation last June revealed previous concerns about working conditions at the Icon construction site in the weeks before Bruneau's death.

Over the 2015 Christmas holidays, falling debris had cracked the windshield of an excavator. And just one month before the fatality another worker was hit by falling ice but escaped serious injury.

In that February 2016 incident a provincial inspector was dispatched to the site but did not issue orders or close down the site. The actions of that government inspector should also be investigated, said Bruneau.

"Explain why you didn't stop that site in February or take real action to prevent (Olivier's) accident?"