Employees dismissed after risking life and limb

Workers cleaned machinery without safety lockout

Glenn Allen and Rafael Gonzalez were fired following a serious safety infraction.

At the time of the incident, the two employees worked for Canada Malting at the company’s large malting plant in Calgary. Allen and Gonzalez were found by their manager to be cleaning the gears of a germination machine with no lockout safety equipment in place.

Additionally, the two employees had failed to isolate the electrical energy source for the machine before entering the germ compartment.

According to the employer, these failures to follow standard operating procedure could have resulted in "disastrous consequences" including serious injury to the workers or others.

Because of the nature of the machinery, the equipment Allen and Gonzalez were working on could have been started up remotely, and without warning, from several locations within the plant.

The workers were cleaning around large open gears which, when turned on, could easily pull someone’s hand or clothing into the moving mechanism and cause serious personal injury.

Following the incident, the employees were sent home with pay pending an investigation.

While neither worker had any prior discipline, the employer decided dismissal was appropriate considering the circumstances.

After acquiring the company in 2009, the employer implemented a comprehensive safety plan in an effort to create a "safety culture" within the plant. Workers received extensive training in standard operating procedures and job safety assessments.

Canada Malting said deterrence was an important factor in the decision to terminate.

Union files grievance

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1118 filed a grievance on the employees’ behalf, arguing the employer acted in an unjust and unreasonable manner when it terminated the workers’ employment.

The union requested full redress, calling for the workers to be reinstated and made whole with a written warning or a suspension of several days.

The union argued the employer had established a pattern of progressive discipline, and firing the employees following one mistake did not take into account the viability of the employment relationship.

Furthermore, the union argued Allen and Gonzalez were employed as sanitation workers. Their primary duties involved the scheduled cleaning of floors, walls and equipment.

When necessary, the workers carried out cleaning on the mechanical equipment at Canada Maltin.

The union argued Allen and Gonzalez had only ever performed this particular duty once or twice before. Their offence was not premeditated or repetitive, the union said, but a genuine mistake.

Arbitrator weighs in

Arbitrator Andrew Sims agreed, calling the incident a "serious lapse of care and attention, by each grievor, but given their relative inexperience in carrying out this specific task, it was seriously negligent but not deliberately or knowingly reckless."

While it is sometimes appropriate to bypass progressive discipline in favour of dismissal, Sims said, sufficient deterrence could have been achieved in Allen and Gonzalez’ case while still preserving two valuable employment relationships.

For this reason, Sims set aside the termination and in its place imposed suspensions of 15 working days without the loss of seniority.

Otherwise, he ordered Allen and Gonzalez be made whole.

Reference: Canada Malting Co. Limited and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1118. Andrew C.L. Sims — arbitrator. Michael Ford for the employer, David Mercer for the union. June 17, 2015.

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