(Barry Swan, centre bottom, speaks at the Manitoba Legislature)
Manitoba’s Liberals are poring over the province’s Workplace, Safety and Health Act hoping to find a part that will help protect workers willing to come forward to talk about an incident that killed a First Nations man in January.
Todd Maytwayashing, 22, was working for the Manitoba Hydro contractor Forbes Brothers Ltd., when he was struck by a piece of falling steel at a job site near Gillam, Man.
Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard said people working for Forbes, which is building a transmission line to carry power to Hydro’s $8.7-billion under-construction Keeyask Generating Station, want to share inside information.
But they fear dismissal.
“I understand there are others…who are ready to come forward to talk about the situation but are reluctant to do so for fear of losing their jobs,” said Gerrard (River Heights).
Gerrard originally pitched the idea of expanding the Whistleblower Protection Act to Premier Brian Pallister earlier this week, suggesting coverage for employees at contract companies was needed to get information the Maytwayashing family wanted.
But Gerrard switched gears Friday saying existing Workplace, Safety and Health legislation should provide the needed protection to get people to come forward.
Maytwayashing’s father, Barry Swan, says he’s been hearing about “bullying and harassment and safety” from other workers.
But he says those workers aren’t ready to share details with provincial Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) investigators without assurance their jobs are protected.
“They are quite afraid and I am very afraid for them because they got young ones, they got mortgages, car loans, and if they’re black-balled from industry I wouldn’t want that to be our fault,” Swan said in an interview Thursday.
Pallister, who paid a condolence call to Maytwayashing’s family last month, says he will personally look into the fatal workplace incident at the mega project.
He also encouraged workers to speak up.
“I would give assurance to anyone who has information that they would like to bring forward in the process of investigating this tragedy to bring that forward without fear of repercussions of any kind,” he told the Legislature Wednesday. “They deserve to feel entirely confident and safe in doing so.”
Swan says he “was honoured” to have Pallister in his home.
“He assured me that Hydro would come to my house and apologize face-to-face,” Swan said. “And he assured me this investigation would not be tampered with.”
Gerrard said Friday he believes the WSH Act has enough teeth to protect workers who want to contribute information to the investigation.
Swan says he just wants to know what led to his son’s death.
“We’re trying to work with workplace safety to have an honest and fair investigation,” he said. “If Hydro and Forbes are willing to share information with us that doesn’t jeopardize anything is what we’re looking for at this point.”
Meanwhile, Forbes has completed its own investigation.
Senior manager Brenda Madley says Maytwashing was doing a “high-risk” part of the job when he was killed and the company has since made changes to try and reduce the danger of loading and unloading material.
“Fatalities don’t occur very often at Forbes,” she said, noting the death of Maytwayashing and two others in eastern Canada last summer during a tower collapse “are the only three fatalities that we’ve had in 40 years.
“Our workers are part of our family. I mean I can’t even tell you how difficult it is on every single individual that’s in the organization,” she added in a telephone interview from Edmonton.
Madley said workers shouldn’t fear for their jobs if they want to report problems.
“We want to know about unsafe conditions so that we can correct them,” she said.
“We have several safety advisors on our Manitoba project. They are encouraged to report unsafe conditions.”
Maytwashing’s is the second death at a Keeyask-related site since the project began in 2014. Carpenter Joseph Head suffered a brain bleed in 2017 that ultimately led to a fatal heart attack.
His widow is suing Hydro alleging her husband died a “wrongful death.”