Michael Maukonen's family set up a tribute to him in court. According to members they hold a tribute hockey tournament each year in his honour. April 8, 2019. (Photo by Greg Higgins)

Jury in roofing inquest enters deliberations

The families of three deceased men will have to wait until Thursday morning to hear recommendations of how to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

The coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Michael Maukonen of Windsor, John Janssens of Wallaceburg, and William Swan of Inwood, who all died after falling on separate job sites, will go into a fourth day at the Chatham courthouse Thursday. The jury needed more time to deliberate and the court is expecting to hear its verdict and recommendations at 11 a.m.

Ken Poisson with the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association took the stand Wednesday morning as the final witness in the inquest. He said the organization provides training for workers who need to wear harnesses. Poisson added the training was first provided in April 2015 and is a one day program comprised of theory and hands-on instruction. He said the point of the training is to teach workers how to prevent a fall and not how to fall. According to Poisson, before these classes were available, there was no real standard and people could simply sign a card saying they have completed training even if they hadn’t

Poisson said the legislative components that are in place regarding workplace safety are minimums and companies are expected to go above and beyond depending on what work they are doing. He added it is the companies’ job to come up with solutions to hazards and the Ministry of Labour is not allowed to tell companies how to comply, it’s up to the organization to figure it out.

He added it is a challenge for smaller businesses — like the ones involved in the three men’s deaths — to get a hold of the proper equipment to go above and beyond the minimum standards. Poisson said they need to spend time with product specialists as many smaller organizations struggle with production versus safety and view safety as a cost, not an investment.

Once Poisson left the stand, the jurors heard brief final arguments and were asked to answer five questions pertaining to each of the deceased in their deliberations. The questions were: “who was deceased? when did he die? where did he die? how did he die? and by what means did each die?”

The jurors had each question explained to them in detail. Dr. Elizabeth Urbantke, presiding as inquest coroner, said even though two of the men died from pneumonia, they wouldn’t have got the infection if not for injuries resulting from the fall. She added though death by natural causes includes disease, she advised that these deaths are closer to accidents because harm was not seen or expected.

Urbantke reminded the jurors to be objective, passionate, and that the inquest isn’t about finding someone guilty or responsible for the deaths. She added the inquest was an opportunity to air concerns and to consider the law as a verdict can’t be accepted if it isn’t lawful. Unlike in criminal trials, the verdict doesn’t have to be unanimous as support is only needed from three of the five jurors to reach a conclusion.