PHOTO 2- This is generally how every load looked when I first opened the door of the trailer - Sometimes I could barely open the door
Preexisting Non-Work-Related Disability:
When I was young, it was when I was in grade school that I learned I was partially colour blind. I was told this is actually a very common condition in males. Approximately three out of every ten males are partially colourblind. Some are even totally colour blind and only see black and white. I used to know a truck driver years ago, who use to drive truck across Canada and was totally colour blind. This meant he could only see black & white. To me it seems from a perception sense, having this disability is more difficult than most other disabilities.
When people are told a person is colourblind or partially, they are in utter disbelief and question you on it. They will say really, what colour is this, or that, like they need to test you to believe what you say is in fact true. I said to one close friend once, do you walk up to people in wheelchairs kick the wheelchair out from underneath them and say, come on you can walk can’t you. So, why do you do this to me. He thought about it and apologized. I really was not offended. I was just trying to make him and others realize, that when we question others about the existence of a disability, are we not just offending them? When I put my disability in that context, people start to realize what they are doing and quickly stop. Unfortunately, this will become more relevant later in my story of my dealings with Ontario’s Workers Compensation Board – WCB.
Working for Accident Employer & Customer:
As I previously said, in 1995, I started working for Action Force Driver Service. There they sent me to work solely for a major Canadian retail outlet called Canadian Tire. They sell home improvement, sports, and automotive products. I only ever work at Canadian Tire, well until after my injury. In my time working at Canadian Tire, I was never paid for vacation pay, statutory holiday pay, and I was only paid overtime pay only after working sixty hours per week. Anytime I raise concern about the extremely unsafe working conditions or the pay arrangement I and other workers were always told that we were temporary workers and they had no obligation to pay anything aside from straight earnings.
If you don’t believe this happened that is ok, because the facts - the documentation does not lie!
This is commonly referred to by scholars as ‘precarious work’. The name is self-explanatory, as workers don’t know for certain if they have work the next day or not.
The working environment was very physical in nature. A driver would be provided work the day before. This information included their start time, as well as information about the run. The driver would show up the next day, perform an inspection on the truck, find their trailer, which was preloaded for them by hand in the warehouse and inspect the trailer. Then they would proceed to the Canadian Tire store or stores and make the deliveries.
At the store, the driver would physical lift each piece of item for the store and place it on a roller system. In some stores, the driver would have to carry the items to the end of the trailer. This was because the store did not have a roller system. Now I loved the physical work it kept me in shape, but I was afraid of the stuff falling on me, as all drivers were. I would be hit by items, while unloading the trailer two, three, or more times a day. I was told that Canadian Tire had so many injuries in the warehouse with the hand loading of the trailers, they actually had a procedure for when an ambulance arrives to cart people away, who got hurt. Truck drivers were routinely hurt at the stores. At least two or three times a week, a driver would get hurt. Some drivers would avoid reporting the accidents and injuries for fear of retaliation by Canadian Tire and their driver service employer. Remember all Canadian Tire had to say to the agency was we don’t want him or her back and that was it you were out of work. Furthermore, it was not uncommon to see many drivers off due to work injuries and then after a week or less they would be fired for being injured and unable to do their regular job. I never really believed people were fired when they got hurt, until it happened to me!
The problem with this work environment is the cowards in the office who says its safe. They never have to actually do the work. They get to sit in a safe, air-conditioned office and never have to lift a finger.
This is a standard colour test.
If you are not colourblind then you should see a number. Unfortunately those that are partially or totally colourblind see nothing but a circle with coloured dots. It just means that my eyes can not process colours like others can. You maybe surprised to find how common it actually is among people. The problem lies with certain types of jobs, such as: a pilot, a firefighter, policeman, baggage handler, and yes in some countries you can not drive, but in Ontario, it is still allowed. Yes even to drive transport truck. What the main difference is that the orientation of the lights and shape red on top and largest green on bottom and smallest.
PHOTO 3- This is what has to be unload after I was able to get the door open form Photo 1. Everything was unloaded by hand and the driver was on his own unloading!
PHOTO 8- Again you can see how the paint was loaded. Also were the grey totes, which had everything from 1 lightbulb to car batteries in them. On the bottom right you can see the rollers what was a about waist high. So you can visualize how high the items were stacked in the trailers.
Now once I started working at Canadian Tire this was entirely different story. As I said, I would suffer injuries from work on a daily basis. I remember every night when I would take all my clothes off to have a shower. I would be covered in bruises. I would have at three to seven new bruises every day. This was from items in the trailer falling and hitting me. If I reported every incident, it is obvious what would happen. I would have been fired - like many other drivers were. Drivers would avoid claiming time off work due to accidents and injuries, but when they had to claim and report it to the employer, it was not very well documented by the employer. Work injuries to employers are car accidents to car owners the more you have the higher your premiums. So obviously employers would and still do to this day work very hard to deny the accident and injuries ever happened at work.
I laughed at this for example, with truck drivers some work up to fifteen hours a day. So, the only time they had at home, was in bed sleeping. Therefore, they obviously didn’t injure themselves sleeping. But employers make such claims and actually get away with it!
Before my devastating injury of February 6, 1997, I had suffered two other accidents that were reported, with injuries. In one case, the employer lied and said I never worked for the employer. In typical fashion, the WCB never bothered to follow up with me, or anyone else. Not surprisingly the employer got away with fraud.
PHOTO 11 & 12- This shows the shear stupidity of the logistics system at retail companies such as Canadian Tire!
On the left they take the product off of skids in the warehouse, then place it on the floor of the trailer. Then on the right the driver would take the product off of the trailer floor and place on skids for the store.
They say it was to save space and money, especially when they transport the loads across country. I laughed when I heard that! For example, I once took a pre-loaded trailer from the warehouse, which took about tow to three hours to load and delivered it right next door to the store, which took another two to three hours to unload. You should also know that majority of their stores in Canada are located close tot he warehouse in Southern Ontario. So, in reality it is actually costing them much more.
The only problem with manual loading and unloading a trailer also is that they do not account for: the time to load; time to unload; the damages to product from being handled so much; and injuries to workers. One would think the costs of manual loading and unloaded would be much higher than loading on skids.
However, if you understood the system of labour outsourcing, then you would know that:
1. labour becomes very cheap
- labour costs are reduced as clients of outsourcing companies are easily able to off all labour expenses as a tax write off. So, for example if I worked for Canadian Tire as an employee, when they pay me for work they can not write off my wages or the employer portion of the tax deductions. This makes outsourcing very appetizing for many companies!
- work injuries do not hurt business. For example, workers comp is like car insurance. when you are a bad driver and have a lot of accidents, then your insurance premiums go up! That is a reasonable expectation of the system why should good driver spay for bad drivers. With workers compensation and outsourcing bad companies are able to divert the workplace injuries on to other companies. Thereby allowing them to keep their premiums low and in the case of today actually get rebates!
2. workers have no rights
- Workers are not able to form unions which is a major incentive for companies to do this, which keeps their labour costs low, as well as a tight lease on the workforce!
- Workers if they speak out about unsafe workplaces they are dealt with quickly, usually told not to come back to work.
- Workers who become injured also are not the problem of the business for they have outsourced therefore there is no re-employment obligations!
After all, this is why so many manufacturing companies have left Europe and North America to setup shop in places like China, where there are no labour laws! So, no unions! There are no environmental laws! So, companies can do as they please! This is where I think companies that do such a thing move off-shore should have to do business with countries who have similar labour and environmental laws as the country they are leaving, if not, they won't be able to sell the products in that country! Almost makes you realize that real business does not like countries that are democratic where it's peoples are free!
PHOTO 10- Again you can see how the trailer was loaded. You can also see the roof of the trailer. On the left and right were stacks of grey totes. Generally they were mixed in with other items, which made them very unstable. This is what fell on me and hit my back neck and head. As well as ten cases of motot oil.
Photo 1 - This is me at 29 years old, unloading a trailer at a Canadian Tire Store. As you can see, I am unloading it by hand. everything has to be placed on the rollers EVERYTHING!
I had the guy in the store take the picture for me!
PHOTO 5- This is generally how a trailer was loaded! If you look closely at the box in the centre it has a simple for hazardous materials. Ironically the box is upside down. Many times hazardous materials were just mixed in with the rest of the load, with no regard to their danger.
Left hand Finger injury:
On December 14, 1995, I suffered an injury to my finger. My Finger was sliced open by a metal wiper blade. I have provided a current picture which is well over twenty years since the injury. You can easily see the scar. This occurred because Canadian Tire refused to replace the metal summer wiper blades with winter ones.
People should change their wiper blades every six months especially in winter weather conditions experienced like in Canada. The winter wiper blades tend not to freeze up as much.
Well, I had to stop several times, on the shoulder of a very busy highway. I would bang the wiper blades free of ice, because I couldn’t see. I did this several times, until one time I slipped. I slipped because everything was covered in ice. My finger got caught in the metal wiper blade and sliced my finger wide open. I drove the truck to the first store. While I was driving I was on the verge of passing out. Ok, I am a puppy! But there was a lot of blood. In fact the inside of the truck look like a murder scene. The store employees in Cambridge were really nice they gave me first aid. I called into dispatch. In typical fashion, Canadian Tire dispatch said they didn’t have any way for me to get back. I would be best to drive the truck back to the yard. So, I waited until I didn’t feel so ill and drove the truck back to the yard. I then went to the local hospital, Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga. I waited about six hours to see a doctor and he was able to give me four stitches. Here’s the gross part one stitch was through the finger nail (sorry). I was never paid for a full day’s work, nor was I paid for the time waiting at the hospital. I worked five hours and that is all I was paid for. The employer never reported the injury to the WCB. The hospital filed a report of injury form, my doctor filed a report, and I filed a report of injury form – provided by the WCB. The employer instead of filing a report sends a letter to the WCB falsely claiming I never worked for them. Not surprisingly there was no further documentation on file no memos no nothing. One can only assume the employer got away with failing to report the injury. This means that OHIP was forced to pay the entire healthcare costs. We wonder why our healthcare costs are so high!
[OHIP is government health insurance. In Canada, we have full government health coverage. However, when work injuries occur WCB is supposed to pay their portion. A lot of times the WCB does not, which then causes health care costs to increase dramatically.]
Some may argue that I should have been grateful for having work at such a bad economic time, even if the working conditions were so bad. This was when work was extremely scarce, due to the downturn in the economy. Not to mention it was a time of corporate mergers, acquisitions, and most of all downsizing through outsourcing. Ironically, I was grateful for the work. I was never upset about the hard-physical work, in fact I loved it. I was just concerned about getting hurt, as any normal person would be. I expressed my concerns to my employer and Canadian Tire on numerous occasions, as did countless others. All we were ever told was to be grateful you have a job. The irony is when have safety meetings with the drivers once a year, but we were not allowed to discuss the unsafe working conditions. These meetings were about how we as drivers were nothing but a bunch of screw ups. That how dare we damage their equipment and we need to be more careful. Others may argue that I should have quit. Well looking back. I agree and I really wish I had quit. I even remember another driver walking up to the dispatch counter dropping the keys and telling them he was not a slave - he was a driver. The only thing I thought at the time, when I saw this, was what a fool. Now I look back thinking, it was really me who was the fool. The reason I never quit was because I was a very hard worker and just wanted work.
The economy was in the toilet – typical for that era.
Not to mention the Harris Conservative government was destroying any social programs, so forget about that as an option. There was no unemployment if you quit or get fired. Which begs the question why do we have unemployment again? Another topic for another day.
Other prior work accidents:
I love this subtitle. Employers, the WCB, and the tribunal will ask if you have ever been hurt before. They don’t care if it was work related or not, which legally they have no right to ask. They do this so they can claim your slow recovery is the result of the other injuries, if you had any. If ever you wonder if someone is doing something illegal and they know it. Then to confirm your suspicions, ask them to put it in writing. If the employer, in this example, refuses that would give you a strong indication what they are asking for is in fact illegal. Then you can call government agencies such as the Labour Board and or the Human rights commission, as well as other sources, before you have over information.
Well regardless, to answer the question before I started working at Canadian Tire, through Action Force Driver Service, I was never hurt or ever suffered any injuries work related or not. I was a healthy adult male, as reported by my annual physicals done by my doctor.
PHOTO 4- This is generally how a trailer was loaded with multiple store deliveries. They would use wood with load bars and most of the time the load would break the load and collapse under the pressure!
Photos of Work Environment:
Just to show the type of working environment I have just explained. I have placed some of the photos of when I worked there. Unfortunately, the photos do not show the physical experience, especially the extreme cold or extreme heat. In the summer, sometimes the trailer temperature would reach well over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. You see I was so concerned about the working environment that I would bring a camera and take pictures just to document how bad things really were. Unfortunately, I only have a few photos left. I gave the majority of my photos that I took at work, including photos from the day I got hurt to my MPP’s office. I was thinking they would advocate for me, as I was their constituent. Not only did they not advocate for me, they said they have boxes piled higher in their basement. Then they refused to return my photos. I don’t remember the MPP’s name exactly, I know he was a Harris Conservative MPP. I think he was the Minister of Labour - ironically.
I remember once I even called the Ministry of Labour for Ontario. The person on the phone advised me to speak to my union. I remember I never laughed so hard on the phone. I explained to her I worked for a temporary agency, which met I was the opposite of a union. I had no representation. I had no rights. The reason why I was laughing so hard was the Ministry of Labour was so out of touch with the current labour movement to say such a thing to a worker. It was clear I would never get any real help to make the workplace safer. So, I carried on waiting for better work to come along and took as many pictures as I could.
PHOTO 9- Again you can see how the trailer was loaded . That wood is not the floor of the trailer, it is the roof! The roof is approximately ten feet from the floor. On the left are the grey totes which had mystery items and were at times stacked form the floor to the ceiling.
The following is what transpired between myself,
and my employer, which led up to my work injury of February 6, 1997.
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PHOTO 7- This is generally how a trailer was loaded! If you look closely at the boxes in the centre with the diagonal line. They are boxes with 2 - 1 gallon tins of paint. Which are relatively heavy they were stacked almost to the roof of the trailer.
Work Before My February 1997 Injury:
In 1987, I obtained my tractor trailer license. What really surprises some people, when they learn I drove transport truck and I am colourblind, is how can I get a license to drive a transport truck. First, I tell them Ontario does not colour test, when you get any driver’s license. Secondly, there is a lot of traffic lights that have arrows, as opposed to just green lights. This is also why the law is very specific about the size and orientation of traffic lights – red is always on top and it is the biggest, whereas green is always on bottom and the smallest. Getting my license, allowed me to become a transport truck driver. Initially, I drove truck locally in the city performing deliveries and pickups. Overtime, I worked on the highway, delivering loads across the country and all over the Unites States. In 1993, I got tired of always being away from home. It was at this time I decided to just do local work. I worked for several companies, but mainly all just temporary agencies. This is how companies in Canada: avoid dealing with labour organizing such as unions; avoid paying decent wages & benefits; as well as avoid responsibility for unsafe workplaces. This went on for several years, in March of 1995 I started working for my employer Action Force Driver Service this is what is referred to as the ‘accident employer’.
Left Foot Injury:
On November 18, 1996, when I was setting up the manual roller system inside the trailer, the roller dropped out of the other person’s hand and struck the top of my foot. To see what the roller system looks like look at photo 1 above, but the rollers were not the same in the picture they were rollers that were intended to be mounted and not portable, which are typically used. So, the interesting point is that the store had order and purchased the wrong rollers. Instead of the store returning them and getting the right rollers, they had no concern. You see if a driver gets hurts, such as myself, it did not impact them in any way. After the incident, I was struggling to walk and surprisingly Canadian Tire set another driver that drove me back to the yard. I was able to drive my car, as it was an automatic with no clutch. I visited my doctor and he had x-rays done. Fortunately, he said it was just a minor injury to take it easy for a few days. Yet again I was paid for actual time worked and not my full shift of work. I noticed in the employer’s report of injury form they said I worked only forty-four hours per week which was a lie as I always worked between sixty and seventy hours per week.
Note that I sent four pictures to WCB. These were to show how bad the work environment was. Nothing was done to the employer or the workplace, in fact the store still continues to use those rollers years after my accident. I had requested several times for the photos to be returned but WCB/WSIB declined or more correctly ignored my requests!