A labor union is calling for severe and swift penalties against Fiera Foods in Toronto following the Sept. 25 death of a temporary agency worker, The Toronto Star reports. Labor union Unifor says it’s the fifth such death at Fiera and affiliated workplaces since 1999.

“Fiera Foods must not be allowed to operate business as usual and its owners must immediately take responsibility for this tragic death and answer to the victim’s family and the public for their actions,” Unifor National President Jerry Dias said. Dias also called for the government to intervene.

Jamie West and Wayne Gates of the New Democratic Party in Ontario said the Doug Ford government has rejected measures to protect temporary agency workers and a public investigation of Fiera Foods is needed in the wake of the recent fatality.

“Ontario workers need to know what steps were taken to correct any violations of health and safety requirements, since the [Ministry of Labour] investigated after the fourth fatality,” according to West and Gates.

Ontario’s Ford government abandoned plans to hire more inspectors to enforce worker protections and was set to freeze the number of inspectors who are responsible for carrying out proactive inspections of workplaces for safety violations, the Canadian Association of Labour Media reported after the fourth fatality at Fiera Foods.

Ongoing concern. Temp worker safety has been on ongoing concern in Canada as well as the US. In March, The Toronto Star reported that safety audits of temporary staffing agencies by Ontario’s workers’ compensation board fell by 80% in 2018 from 2016. According to documents the newspaper obtained through a Freedom of Information request, the board conducted 85 audits of temporary help agencies in 2018, down from 454 in 2016. What made the drop puzzling was that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board follows a risk-based audit process, the editorial board noted. Because temporary agencies are considered higher risk, the editorial board reasoned, their audits should have increased rather than fallen.

“OSHA and the safety agencies of other countries believe an unproven but reasonable hypothesis — that temporary workers experience greater workplace risks than direct employees,” George M. Reardon, an attorney who specializes in the staffing industry, told Staffing Industry Analysts. He advised staffing firms and their clients to proactively address the issue, regardless of government enforcement.

When contingent workers are procured through a staffing firm, the two companies should be working together to ensure the workers are properly trained and equipped. Be prepared to allow your staffing firm to see your workplace environment and to review your existing training program for staff so they can evaluate what type of training and protection they will need to provide to their contingent workers.

Narcity reported that Fiera Foods’ general counsel, David Gelbllom, responded to the incident:

“The health and safety of our people is our priority,” according to the response reported by Narcity. “We have always worked to create healthy, safe job sites. In recent years we have committed even more resources and efforts to health and safety initiatives which have included working with third-party experts and the Ministry of Labour. But clearly more needs to be done. We know this and are re-committing to doing all we can to ensure such an incident cannot repeat itself.”