March 25, 2019

Winnipeg contractor in botched asbestos job has criminal past

A Winnipeg contractor who was recently sanctioned for a botched asbestos removal job has a long criminal history that includes convictions for fraud and theft, the CBC News I-Team has learned.

Workman Industries owner John Sirenn’s criminal record dates back to 1959 with convictions for cashing thousands of dollars in fake cheques and for stealing copper wire and electronics from other businesses, according to court documents.

The documents also show he once fled from a traffic check stop when he was not licensed to drive. His vehicle crashed into a hydro pole that fell within inches of a woman’s head.

“Absolutely disgusted,” said Jon Cameron, whose family filed a complaint against Workman after crews botched an asbestos remediation job at his parents’ house, sending asbestos into the air.

“I mean, how is it that somebody who is consistently violating laws and regulations, putting people’s well-being at risk, how is he still able to work in this city?”

In August, Sirenn and his crew were caught on video dragging asbestos-covered materials — without wearing protective gear — through Rafaelita and Victor Cameron’s home in Point Douglas.

Manitoba’s Workplace Safety and Health issued stop-work orders against Workman and Sarte Heating and Cooling, as well as ordered Workman to decontaminate the house.

However, that work wasn’t done. The Camerons have been out of their home for nearly two months.

“There’s no way that this man should still be working. There’s no way he should still have a company,” Cameron said of Sirenn.

Sirenn has refused to speak to CBC News. Officials from Sarte Heating and Cooling have not responded to a request for comment.

No protective masks

Cameron’s mother, Rafaelita Cameron, had hired Sarte Heating and Cooling to replace their old boiler system with a new high-efficiency furnace.

However, the company could not carry out the installation until the old boiler — which was covered in asbestos — was removed.

So Sarte arranged for Workman Industries to go to the Point Douglas home on Aug. 7 to do the remediation.

When the Workman crew arrived, the family said they noticed the workers were not wearing protective masks or equipment. As well, they said they were not instructed to stay away.

Rafaelita Cameron said she confronted one of the workers when the family realized there were no barriers created to separate the basement job site from the rest of the home.

Jon Cameron videotaped as Workman crews removed the old asbestos-covered boiler in pieces without wrapping any of it in plastic.

The family has since decided to pay out of pocket to get the house remediated so they can replace the boiler and move back in.

Another company, Associated Environmental Services, has since been hired to carry out the asbestos remediation.

‘It was just deplorable’

AES project manager Jason Driedger said his crews had to vacuum and wipe down every surface in the house — a task that he said took them two weekends.

“I came in and took an initial look at the place and I was shocked,” he said.

“Open bags of materials and, I mean, it was just deplorable — as a homeowner, nothing you would ever want to see and nothing you should see.”

Driedger said the workers that Workman Industries hired may not have even known the dangers of what they were handling.

Undisturbed asbestos-containing materials generally don’t pose a health risk, according to Health Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It’s only when the asbestos is disturbed, and the dust is emitted into the air, that it poses a risk to human health, the agencies say. In significant quantities, asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis and lung cancer.

Workman Industries was issued a cease and desist order to stop using the Certificate of Recognition (COR) Program logo on its website.

The COR certification is obtained through the Construction Safety Association of Manitoba and typically means a company has a safety and health program that meets national standards.

When CBC News contacted the association last month, it said Workman Industries has never been certified by them.

“It really turns my stomach because we’re trying so hard in this industry to make it safe for everybody and to do a proper job, and then you see somebody who just comes in and completely ruins people’s houses,” Driedger said.

“It’s just terrible and it makes the rest of us, the legit companies, look really bad.”

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Winnipeg contractor in botched asbestos job has criminal past

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