Accident at work | Children at high risk

Several hundred children under the age of 16 have been injured in work accidents since 2015 in Quebec. CNESST inspection reports show how serious these injuries are and, in at least one case, fatal.

On June 15, 2020, when the labor inspector arrived in Saint-Martin, Beauce, around 11 am, the Sûreté du Québec was already on site. At Atelier PJB, a manufacturer of industrial steel equipment, an agent has already captured the “accident scene”. A two-ton forklift overturned. The driver was ejected from the cabin and crushed.

In the first intervention report, the victim’s name and age were not specified. They will be indicated in full, on June 16, 2021, in the coroner’s report. This is Charles-Antoine Poulin. He’s only 14.


Charles Antoine Poulin

This report by the Commission for Standards, Equity, Health and Safety at Work (CNESST) on the accident that took the life of “Charlo” (as his friends call him) is one of 13 “intervention reports” obtained by The Press under the Freedom of Information Act. They are concerned about companies that have hired, from 2015 to now, children under the age of 16.

There is no minimum age to work in Quebec (unlike all other provinces). Children are obliged to attend school until the age of 16 during school hours. However, they may work weeknights and weekends. Up to 13 years of age, they need a parent’s written consent. From the age of 14, it is no longer necessary.

Intervention reports make it possible to understand to what extent the risks of injury are different and varied for children aged 13, 14 and 15 years.

There are many accidents

That day, Hubert*, a maintenance worker at the Falardeau zoo in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, entered the Siberian lynx enclosure. The cat jumped on the back of a colleague. Hubert wants to help him. He managed to scare him, but got bitten on one arm and scratched his face.

That day, at Fromagerie Gilbert in Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce, Pierre-Alexandre* introduced grains to poutine lovers. When a block of cheese got stuck in the electric cheese grinder, he stretched out his left arm to free it. The knife cut his fingers. In the hospital, the first joint of the index finger had to be amputated.

That day, Alexis* was working at Équipements Pontbriand, a company that sells and repairs lawnmowers in the Eastern Townships. A customer brought in one, a gasoline model, that made a funny noise. To find the source of the problem, Alexis moved to lean against the mower and put her left hand under the edge of the frame. “He suffered cuts,” modestly notes the inspector’s report.

Accidents are common. Thus, 203 children under the age of 16 were paid by CNESST in 2021. An official number that underestimates their number, according to experts. You don’t have to blame employers, according to Denis Mailloux, a lawyer who often defends young people at the Administrative Labor Tribunal. “I don’t think employers are bad, but the question of practice comes up: is sponsoring newcomers effective? »

Particularly dangerous sawmills

According to these 13 reports, accidents are more frequent in rural areas.

Frédéric* worked for a supplier of sugar bush equipment in Saint-Gédéon-de-Beauce, Équipements R. Quirion. While unloading a basin of maple sap from a van, he fell. A drop of about two feet. “His right knee was inverted, the intervention report was underlined, and his leg was broken. »

When it comes to working teenagers, sawmills seem particularly dangerous. On the day of the accident, at Clermond Hamel, a company in Saint-Éphrem-de-Beauce, Léo* had to pick up the sawdust under the support roller. Since there was less than 10 centimeters between the catch and the ground, he had to lie on his stomach. His hand got stuck between the roller and the conveyor belt. A colleague took too long to activate the emergency stop. Result: Leo’s hand was “burned” by the belt, a “significant physical trauma”, estimated the inspector.

Thomas*, in Bardobec, in the Chaudière-Appalaches region, had his arm pinched. He is trying to free a piece of wood caught between a conveyor belt and a support roller. He was hospitalized with multiple injuries. (Regional media revealed he was 13.)

Young people don’t have proper reflexes. They don’t ask too many questions. They enjoy working and want to keep their jobs. They don’t assess the risks.

Me Denis Mailloux

These misfortunes are not limited to the countryside. On the day of the accident, in Quebec, Jacob* cooperated with the driver of the moving truck. It’s up to him to hold the car ramp when backing up. This time, Jacob didn’t make it. When the driver heard her scream, the ramp had pinned her against the wall. He was diagnosed with “bruised legs (femur)”.

The Minister of Labor, Jean Boulet, is thinking of better regulation of child labor, a phenomenon that the lack of labor, he says, is “reinforced”. The Labor and Labor Advisory Committee is scheduled to submit recommendations on December 8.

According to the latter Quebec survey on the health of secondary school youth, 46% of secondary 1 students work during the school year. Most are 12 years old.

* First names are fictitious.

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