Update: Since this story was posted on June 6, the City of Winnipeg responded to clarify claims by an Emterra worker who said recyclables aren’t being moved to recycling facilities, they’re simply being warehouse. A city spokeswoman told APTN that in 2015, the city sold over 50,600 metric tonnes of recycling material to markets throughout the world. As the material comes into the plant it is sorted, baled and stored temporarily until hauling arrangements are finalized.
By Melissa Ridgen
The company at the centre of an APTN investigation for its treatment of indigenous day laborers was hit with four recent citations by provincial health and safety inspectors, who have been cracking down since Hurting for Work aired last October.
The City of Winnipeg pays Emterra Environmental to collect residential trash and recycling. Garbage is taken to the city’s landfill while recyclables are taken to Emterra’s plant to be sorted.
On May 27, inspectors from Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health did a spot check at the plant as a result of an “external complaint.”
“Two stop work orders and improvements orders were issued. The stop work orders issued were for the maintenance of powered mobile equipment and improvement orders related to power mobile equipment. In addition, several other improvement orders were issued related to confined space entry control measures, vehicular traffic control-reverse warning devices and electrical defects,” said Julie DeVoin, a spokeswoman for the provincial safety regulator.
A plant worker who was there when inspectors ordered the shutdown of some equipment, says it was only a matter of time.
“People likely don’t know that the stuff in their blue box isn’t recycled. It’s just stored here. It’s not going somewhere to be recycled. We’re running out of space but keep piling and piling higher,” said the Emterra worker, who doesn’t want to be named for fear of losing his job.
“The machinery, the trucks – they’re all falling apart. They’re doing patch repair jobs to get them on the road but it’s so dangerous.”
He said someone got a shock just touching an Emterra truck.
“A guy jumped on a truck, grabbed a handle and got shocked,” he said, explaining severed wires made the vehicle a shock hazard. “Now everyone is wearing rubber gloves.”
Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health says since the story aired last October on APTN Investigates — seven months ago – they’ve visited Emterra 10 times, resulting in a total of seven stop work and seven improvement orders. Violations include poorly maintained equipment and hazardous sanitary conditions at the plant.
Consistent violations has the province scrambling to make a plan.
“Workplace Safety and Health has concerns regarding compliance at Emterra, and is reviewing its enforcement strategy to ensure enforcement is both appropriate and effective,” DeVoin said.
Since 2013 there have been five “serious incidents” involving garbage and recycling workers. In addition, there have been 19 safety complaints from workers and citizens.
Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health wouldn’t elaborate on the serious incidents.
APTN found one trash collector, known as a swamper, who had been knocked down by a van and run-over by the garbage truck he was working on. He suffered pelvic and foot injuries.
In the past two years, the province has issued a total of 19 stop work orders and 65 improvement orders to Emterra. And in the past three years there have been 118 Workers Compensation Board claims related to those working for the trash collector.
The City of Winnipeg conducted its own investigation after the APTN Investigates story aired. In January a city spokeswoman said “The information gathered through our investigation demonstrates that appropriate safe work procedures and policy are in place. We will continue to work with the contractor to ensure that all safety and health requirements are being met in the field.”
When advised of the latest safety concerns, the city shrugged it off as being an issue between Emterra and the province.
“The facility is owned and operated by Emterra Environmental, and must comply with the Province of Manitoba’s workplace safety and health regulations,” said city spokeswoman Michelle Finley.
Meanwhile Emterra says since the story aired last fall, they’ve implemented 13 new policies.
“The impact of these measures has resulted in the number of garbage and recycling collection claims to Workers Compensation Board dropping to just 3 in 2015 totaling 4 lost (work) days,” said Bill Waddell, VP of Operations for Emterra.
As for laborers being paid minimum wage and no benefits, Waddell said that’s not Emterra’s fault, it’s the city’s.
“There is no doubt that the City’s [request for proposals] process encourages bidders to keep wages as low as possible in order to win City contracts,” he said. “A Fair Wage Policy would prescribe wages, vacation and holiday pay and benefits that contractors must provide workers doing City work.”
Although the city said the contract largely prohibits workers from lifting bins designed to be picked up by mechanical truck arms, that continues to happen regularly.