Death underlines risks of casual labour
Victim had been hired through temp program
The death of a 55-year-old construction worker buried Tuesday at an infill project in Westmount is raising questions about risks casual labourers face.
Keith Werbinuk, 60, a heavy equipment operator, has been getting work through the Bissell Centre’s temporary labour agency on and off for a few years.
While he has not felt unsafe at a work site, he understands people’s desperation for a job and knows some employers are willing to cut corners if it will save them money.
“If you want the job bad enough, you’re going to take it,” he said Wednesday outside the Bissell Centre.
Occupational Health and Safety spokeswoman Danielle Boucher said the man was hired through the Bissell Centre program, but the centre says it has no record of any of its registered temporary labourers starting work Tuesday with either prime contractor Haya Homes Inc. or subcontractor Sahib Contracting at the infill site at 10742 and 10746 123rd St.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Bissell Centre did not know the man’s identity and could not rule out that he had been involved in the program or worked in the past for Sahib Contracting.
The centre does count Sahib Contracting among the 6,500 employers it has had a working relationship with.
Bissell Centre chief executive Mark Holmgren said employers and employees are discouraged from making deals under the table.
Workers, many of whom are homeless, are hired through a lottery process every morning and are paid $13 to $15 an hour.
The Bissell Centre does not take a cut of workers’ wages.
The man was working inside a two-to-three-metredeep trench behind two skinny homes when it collapsed about 5:20 p.m., burying him under more than a metre of clay and dirt. OHS said workers were attempting to access a water main.
The man was removed from the trench by firefighters just before 2 a.m., Edmonton Fire Rescue spokeswoman Chrystal Coleman said.
The man was pronounced dead at the scene. He has not been identified.
“The real story is this guy was killed in an accident and I’m anxious to see what Occupational Health comes up with in terms of its investigation, like were the conditions safe? Was it done right?” Holmgren asked.
Often, these are the workers taking jobs no one else wants to do, he said.
“People who are hardpressed to find work are also going to be more reluctant to speak up to an employer where things might not be quite right.”
Haya Homes president Kamil Issa said he found out about the incident about half an hour after it happened and raced to the scene.
“I couldn’t believe it. I just drove. I didn’t want to have a car accident. I just tried to focus on my driving and get there,” he said.
“We’re waiting for the investigation to find out exactly what happened ... There aren’t enough words to express how sorry we are for the victim and his family,” he added.
Haya Homes does infill and other homebuilding projects in the city and hired Sahib Contracting to do excavation work, Issa said.
He declined to say whether the two companies had worked together in the past.
Sahib Contracting had not returned requests for comment as of Wednesday afternoon.
Issa said he only found out from the Journal that the worker was retained through the Bissell Centre.
“We didn’t know who he was. I’ve never met the guy myself. But right now, questions will be answered when the investigation will be done,” he said.
City records show Haya Homes and Limak Investments applied for a development permit on the property Nov. 20, 2014.
Police said the man’s death is not being treated as suspicious or criminal, so OHS will handle the investigation.
The completed OHS report will go to the Crown to determine if charges should be laid.