Ottawa

A floor installer died in a weekend fall on his boss's property. His family wants answers

Ron Hill was helping his boss when he was struck by a piece of machinery and fell to his death. Now the Outaouais man's family and former colleagues are speaking out in the hopes of learning more about his final moments — and sparing other workers the same fate. 

Ron Hill, 62, was a workhorse eyeing his retirement, his family says

Family remembers Outaouais man who died at weekend work site

6 months ago
Duration 3:20
Loved ones say Ron Hill, 62, was a hard worker eyeing retirement.

Family and former colleagues of a western Quebec man whose workplace death went unreported publicly are speaking out in the hopes of learning more about his final moments — and sparing other workers the same fate. 

Ron Hill, who would have turned 63 next month, was two years away from retirement when he was struck by machinery on Sept. 10 and fell from a building on property owned by his boss in Ottawa's rural southeast outskirts.

Even though Hill's family says he was doing a side job on the weekend, Ontario's Ministry of Labour says it is investigating the incident as a workplace fatality.

It issued four orders against Hill's Ottawa-based employer, Southgate Carpets Inc.

That's typically done when inspectors find a company has contravened a requirement of health and safety laws, though it's not necessarily a prelude to charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Given Hill was a floor installer, his family says they have questions about how he died in a roofing incident.

They also want to know what safety precautions were taken by Southgate, which is cited by the WSIB as a flooring contractor

"When you do flooring [and] you install carpet, you don't expect to die," Hill's sister Lynn Chénier said. 

"Hill went to work that day expecting to be home," echoed Sean McKenny, the president of the Ottawa & District Labour Council. 

The cover of a funeral program with a photo of a man playing a guitar outside.
The back of Ron Hill's funeral program shows him in his trademark cowboy garb. Hill was eyeing retirement when he died Sept. 10 in what Ontario's Ministry of Labour says was a workplace fatality. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

'Ronnie never said no'

Hill was the third youngest among seven siblings who grew up in the Outaouais. He lived more recently both there and in Renfrew, Ont., commuting to the Ottawa area for his job, according to his sister. 

Chénier described Hill as a big-hearted grandfather with a large appetite, a fondness for cowboy clothing and a "workhorse" ethic honed over years on the family's sugar bush in l'Île-du-Grand-Calumet, Que.

"Ronnie never said no," said another older sibling, Colleen Baird. "No matter how tired he'd be, he'd be there."

Before taking a job at Southgate Carpets, Hill worked for years at another Ottawa contractor, Capital Tile & Flooring Ltd., until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the company could no longer guarantee him full-time work. 

Leslie Morgan, Capital Tile's office manager, said she adored Hill. He'd proudly show her pictures of his grandkids and bring her his best batch of maple syrup every spring. 

"I've been thinking a lot about him," she said. "He is so deserving of finality."

Sister worried about him

According to Hill's family, it wasn't unusual for him to work on weekends. Baird said Hill was pouring cement during Labour Day weekend one week before his death.

"Ronnie wanted to have extra work because … he wanted to retire when he was 65," Baird said. 

Stephen Frodsham, Hill's former boss at Capital Tile, said via email that he would reach out to Hill when there was work, only to learn he wasn't available.

Chénier said she worried about her brother falling asleep at the wheel "because … he was so tired."

Nine adults, some of them seniors, pose for a family photo in a home.
Ron Hill, far left, was one of seven siblings. Here he's pictured with his brothers and sisters and his mother and father. (Submitted by Lynn Chénier)

Baird said that before he died, Hill told her he was working for his Southgate Carpets employer again that weekend.

He was tired, she said, but told her "they were moving along pretty quickly and they were gonna be taking the boards off the roof the next day." 

Hill had picked up a harness from her house, Baird added. 

"When I was told he fell off the roof, I'm going, 'Impossible,'" she said. 

Fell nearly 4 metres

Ottawa Fire Services told CBC it got a call during noon hour on Sept. 10 that Hill had fallen nearly four metres at a construction site in the rural community of Edwards.

The land where the incident took place is owned by Mohamad Charaf, the president of Southgate Carpets, according to property records. 

A building was being demolished there and Hill fell from a wall, according to the Ottawa Paramedic Service.

When firefighters arrived, a co-worker was giving Hill CPR, the fire service said. 

Firefighters and paramedics took over resuscitation efforts, but Hill was pronounced dead at the hospital, according to Perry Hill, his youngest brother.

He said the Office of the Chief Coroner told him his brother fell after being struck by part of an excavator.

A two-storey white house in a rural community. Part of the roof is missing, another part has a blue tarp on it.
Hill's brother-in-law Louis Chénier took these photos of the property, three days after Hill's death. The building is no longer there. (Submitted by Louis Chénier)

The Ministry of Labour said it could not detail the orders issued to Southgate Carpets due to its investigation. It did say it hadn't received any health and safety complaints about Southgate in the five years before Hill's death.

The Ottawa Police Service also investigated and told CBC it concluded there was "no evidence to suggest any criminality."

Hill's family doesn't believe anything malicious happened either, but said it hadn't heard from Charaf and was disappointed he didn't attend Hill's funeral.

"I know it would be hard for him, but it's really hard for us too. And I think he owed Ronnie that, not just to send flowers," Chénier said. 

When reached over the phone, Charaf said he was trying to get back to normal after Hill's tragic death. He later said via email he was declining to comment on the advice of his lawyer.

"Owners and supervisors are usually devastated by [these sorts of incidents] and often don't know how to respond or whether to communicate with family members or not," said Cheryl A. Edwards, a former Ministry of Labour prosecutor who now defends businesses, via email. 

A flower display at a wake, with a guitar on a stand and a black cowboy hat on the guitar's neck.
One of Hill's sons got his Stetson hat after the funeral. (Submitted by Lynn Chénier)

Investigation could take months

Hill's family wants to know whether the person operating the machinery was qualified and what other safety measures were in place in the leadup to Hill's death.

It could be a long wait.

The Ministry of Labour said its investigation may take months and the law was recently changed to give them two years, up from one, to decide if Occupational Health and Safety Act charges are warranted.

Louise Martel, whose partner Rick Bastien was one of six employees who died in the January 2022 Eastway Tank explosion in Ottawa, knows what it's like to wait.

The precise cause and circumstances of that blast remain unknown nearly two years later. In a sad twist of fate, Martel is neighbours with Hill's aunt and uncle. 

Her advice for Hill's family is simple.

"Don't give up," she said. "Make sure you have answers."

Family and former colleagues of a western Quebec man whose workplace death went unreported publicly are speaking out in the hopes of learning more about his final moments — and sparing other workers the same fate.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa

Guy Quenneville is a reporter at CBC Ottawa born and raised in Cornwall, Ont. He can be reached at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

With files from Falice Chin and Jean Delisle