Sawmill employee short-sighted about safety glasses

Worker angrily refuses to wear mandatory safety gear

Hector Torres’ failure to wear safety glasses was short-sighted, arbitrator Mark J. Brown recently ruled.

Terminal Forest Products suspended Torres on Sept. 5, 2013, for five days when he failed to wear safety glasses while on the job. Torres was working as a trim operator at the employer’s Mainland Sawmills location in Richmond, B.C., when the incident occurred.

On Sept. 3, 2013, charge hand Efren Ocampo observed Torres working on the trim table without safety glasses. Ocampo approached Torres and asked him to put his safety glasses on, as required by the company’s safety policy. Torres reportedly refused.

Ocampo testified Torres angrily told him, "This is fucking stupid! I know what I am doing here!" He said he asked Torres a second and third time to put his safety glasses on, stating Torres refused each time. The incident was reported to management at the end of the shift. Torres’ alleged use of profanity was not mentioned in the report. Following an investigation Torres was suspended.

A similar situation occurred in July of 2012, when Torres was suspended for three days after refusing to wear his safety glasses. Due to the seriousness of the September 2013 incident and its relation to previous discipline, Torres was subject to a longer suspension.

The United Steelworkers International Union Local 1-1937 grieved the suspension on Torres’ behalf, however, arguing he was in fact wearing the safety glasses.

Torres testified Ocampo never asked him to put his safety glasses on, stating he wore the glasses for the balance of his shift. He admitted he often washes his safety glasses while he is on break, and does not wear them for five to 10 minutes while they dry.

Torres testified Ocampo was the one who uttered profanities during their exchange, stating Ocampo interrupted him when he was working at the trim table, yelling at him to "Get back to the fucking station!"

The union argued Torres was never told to wear his safety glasses by Ocampo. Accordingly, there is no cause for discipline and if cause for discipline is found, the union argued a five-day suspension is excessive. The employer, however, argued Torres violated the safety policy and refused a direct order to put the glasses on three times. Because the incident is similar to previous discipline, the employer requested the grievance be dismissed.

"The narrow issue before me is whether Torres was wearing safety glasses or not; and, whether he refused to wear them after he was directed to do so by Ocampo on three occasions," Brown said in his ruling. Torres and Ocampo are at polar opposites on this point."

However, Brown concluded it was more likely than not that Torres was not wearing safety glasses when Ocampo approached him, saying there was otherwise no reason for Ocampo to raise the issue.

"He may have seen Torres on an occasion when his glasses were drying," Brown said. "Even if I give Torres the benefit of the doubt on this point and assume he wore his glasses at times other than that, he acknowledges that on occasion he does not wear his safety glasses while they are drying. That in and of itself, is a violation of the employer’s policy regarding the use of glasses."

Brown therefore concluded that Ocampo did indeed instruct Torres to wear safety glasses, and Torres’ refusal to do so was just and reasonable cause for discipline. The grievance was dismissed.

Reference: Terminal Forest Products Mainland Sawmills and the United Steelworkers International Union Local 1-1937. Mark J. Brown — sole arbitrator. Peter Parsons for the employer, Gary Kobayashi for the union. May 26, 2014.

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