Failed by the system
Some would call the situation Gatlyn England has faced in the past two years an injustice.
This 20-year-old from the Conception Bay town of Marysvale was nearly killed during an incident in July 2011 when he was hit in the head with a frozen fish weighing 40 pounds (see page A1), while offloading a fishing vessel docked at the wharf in Bay Roberts. He was not wearing a hard hat.
After the incident, England learned Harbour International — his employer — could not be held responsible for his injuries because legislation from Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (WHSCC) prevent employers from being sued.
When he hired legal representation, the idea was to receive compensation from 55104 Newfoundland and Labrador Ltd. — the owner of the vessel he was working on.
In recent weeks, the England family learned there were also legislations to protect the third-party employer (i.e. 55104) from legal action, also stemming from WHSCC legislation.
Explanation? Company 55104 was also immune from getting sued. In other words, Gatlyn does not have a legal leg to stand on.
If WHSCC decides to go ahead and sue Harbour International for the incident, it pockets the money.
So what becomes of this young man, in the prime of his life, who now has permanent physical limitations, ongoing injuries and loss of hearing in one ear, all sustained one month after completing high school? Will he be compensated for working in an unsafe environment? It now looks very unlikely. England has exhausted all avenues for obtaining compensation from the parties involved because they are not “legally responsible” (although Harbour International is facing charges that stem from the incident).
Is it injustice that someone in England’s situation has received very little from WHSCC, who compensated him a mere $2,500 because he only lost his hearing?
Is it injustice that an organization put in place to protect workers from being harmed also protects companies from being held responsible if someone does get hurt?
And what about the fact that England will have to spend the next 60 to 80 years of his life questioning why the system failed him?
How many other cases like this — where people were denied proper compensation for a serious injury or death — have been swept under the rug? Unfortunately, we may never know. But one thing is for certain, victims of serious workplace injuries will never be protected as long as employers have immunity from taking responsibility.