Hydro Ottawa worker rushed repair job, committed safety violations

Employee wanted to get back to company Christmas party

Hydro Ottawa worker rushed repair job, committed safety violations

An Ontario worker’s bad day — with one safety violation after another — was enough to terminate his employment, an arbitrator has ruled.

The worker was employed with Hydro Ottawa, the operator of the electric utility in Ottawa. He initially joined as an apprentice in 2011 and became a power line technician in 2015 — a safety sensitive position that involved building and maintaining electrical systems.

Safety was a priority for Hydro Ottawa and it had rules requiring the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety procedures, all outlined in a safe practice guide and the collective agreement. The worker received safety training and reviews throughout his employment.

On Dec. 21, 2016, Hydro Ottawa scheduled a holiday lunch at a restaurant because it was the last regular workday before the Christmas break. The worker was scheduled to be on-call in the afternoon.

The worker drank two mixed drinks with rye whiskey during the lunch, over a period of about 30 minutes. Later that afternoon, around 4:15 p.m., the on-call supervisor contacted the worker and a colleague about an assignment and told them to go to an office where they would receive further instructions.

The two employees left the restaurant in their personal vehicles and they decided to stop by the worksite first. After checking the site and determining that a damaged piece of equipment needed to be replaced, they asked two field operators already there to guard the wires since they didn’t have any equipment to block off the site from the public.

They retrieved the necessary equipment but didn’t pick up their full PPE or their Hydro Ottawa vehicles, nor did they call the supervisor. They didn’t conduct a tailboard safety discussion, ensure a hold-off — a restriction of the equipment’s operation — had been obtained for the site or put on full PPE, but proceeded to replace the damaged equipment with rubber gloves borrowed from the field operators. In addition, the worker was wearing his work boots with the laces untied and the tongues hanging out.

An area supervisor arrived and chastised the worker and his colleague for not wearing PPE or following other safety procedures, especially in front of the field operators. They agreed they hadn’t done the job properly as they wanted to get back to the restaurant for dinner.

Another emergency came up later, but the area supervisor told the on-call supervisor he didn’t want the worker or his colleague to assist based on how they did the last job. He called the worker three times before he was able to reach him and told him he was suspended pending an investigation.

The worker initially denied that he had consumed alcohol at the lunch before performing the on-call work but then later admitted it.

He eventually acknowledged that he hadn’t brought a Hydro One vehicle with all the appropriate equipment, manuals and forms to the worksite, hadn’t worn appropriate PPE, didn’t obtain a hold-off, borrowed gloves to do the job, and didn’t properly protect the public from the worksite. He also admitted to not telling the whole truth initially because he was “stupid” and “in Christmas mode.”

The arbitrator noted Hydro Ottawa’s work environment was safety sensitive and the worker was responsible for the safety of his co-workers, the public and himself. However, on Dec. 21, 2016, the worker “lacked focus, attention to detail, all of his safety training and displayed terrible judgment” in committing “a series of serious safety infractions, any one of which could have resulted in an injury or property damage.” Since the infractions all occurred together in the same day, things snowballed to a point where the circumstances were dangerous, said the arbitrator.

The arbitrator also found the worker’s failure to be forthright in the investigation compounded his misconduct, so dismissal was appropriate.

Reference: Hydro Ottawa Ltd. And IBEW, Local 636 (Beach). Judith Allen — arbitrator. Jennifer Birrell, Larissa Volinets for employer. Katherine Ferreira for employee. Aug. 14, 2019. 2019 CarswellOnt 14441

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