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Dentons’ Spring Employment Seminar Includes OHS Caselaw Highlights – June 5th

Please join us for a complimentary half-day employment law seminar in Toronto on Friday, June 5th. We will cover the following topics:

We are particularly delighted to welcome our special guest speakers Scott Armstrong, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour, and Chantal Bernier, former Interim Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Date & Time
Friday, June 5, 2015
Registration and breakfast:  8:30-9:00 a.m.
Welcome remarks and special guest speaker Chantal Bernier:  9:00-9:30 a.m.
Breakout sessions:  9:30-11:45 a.m.
Lunch and special guest speaker Scott Armstrong:  11:45 a.m.
Program ends: 1:00 pm

Location
Dentons Canada LLP
77 King Street West
5th Floor
Toronto, ON

For more information and to RSVP for this event visit our registration page.

Contact
Please contact toronto.events@dentons.com for any questions.

Dentons’ Spring Employment Seminar Includes OHS Caselaw Highlights – June 5th

Former Safety Manager Charged in U.S. Workplace Death

A former Safety Manager in California is among those charged with “willfully violating worker safety rules”, allegedly causing the death of a worker.

The former Safety Manager and the Director of Plant Operations of Bumble Bee Foods LLC, and the company itself, were charged “with three felony counts each of an Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) violation causing death.”

A news release by the Los Angeles County District Attorney states:

“Prosecutors said on Oct. 11, 2012, victim Jose Melena, 62, of Wilmington, entered a 35-foot-long cylindrical oven as part of his job duties at Bumble Bee’s Santa Fe Springs plant. The oven is used to sterilize cans of tuna.

“Coworkers were unaware that Melena was inside the oven when they loaded multiple carts, collectively containing about 12,000 pounds of tuna, closed the front door and started the oven. The victim inadvertently became trapped in the back of the super-heated, pressurized steam cooker.

“During the two-hour heat sterilization process, the oven’s internal temperature rose to about 270 degrees. Melena’s severely burned remains were discovered by a coworker, prosecutors said. Melena worked for the company for about six years.”

The charges against the former Safety Manager and the Director of Plant Operations carry a possible jail term of three years and/or a fine of $250,000.00.  The company faces a fine of up to $1.5 million if convicted.

Charges against safety professionals are quite rare.  As we noted in a previous post, in 2011 an Occupational Health and Safety Co-ordinator was found guilty of a violation of Nova Scotia’s Occupational Health and Safety Act for neglecting to follow up with his employer on recommendations in an asbestos report.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s news release may be found here.

Former Safety Manager Charged in U.S. Workplace Death

Worker awarded WSIB benefits after health and safety officer “grabbed him and threw him to the ground”

In an unusual case, a construction site superintendent has won entitlement to workers compensation benefits after persuading an appeals tribunal that he was assaulted by his employer’s health and safety officer and was not an active participant in the altercation.

The worker testified that on the day in question, as he entered a construction site office he was asked by the health and safety officer why he had stopped trades people from throwing garbage from the third floor.  He replied that he had been asked by the employer to move the garbage container to another location, at which time the health and safety officer said he had no authority to do that and got so upset that he grabbed him and threw him to the ground. The worker sought treatment and was diagnosed with ligament strain.  The health and safety officer was dismissed shortly thereafter.

The worker applied for WSIB benefits, but the employer opposed the request. The WSIB assigned an investigator who found that the worker was an active participant in the altercation.  The WSIB case manager denied him entitlement to WSIB benefits.

The employer did not participate in the worker’s appeal to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal. The WSIAT looked at earlier statements given by the worker, the health and safety officer and the employer.  The WSIAT determined that the worker was not the aggressor, and that the health and safety officer’s statement was “less than credible” because he did not even acknowledge that he had grabbed the worker and thrown him to the ground.  The fact that the worker pushed the health and safety officer away did not make him a participant in a fight; instead, it was a normal act of self-defence.

Interestingly, the WSIAT noted that there was no evidence that the worker had a history of being physically violent, while there was evidence that the health and safety officer was involved in at least one prior physical altercation.

WSIAT Decision No. 2140/14 (2014 ONWSIAT 2760)

Worker awarded WSIB benefits after health and safety officer “grabbed him and threw him to the ground”

Ontario MOL Releases 2015-16 Safety Inspection Blitz Schedule

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has released its schedule of workplace inspection blitzes for the period from May 2015 to March 2016. The schedule gives employers advance notice of what MOL inspectors will look for when they visit workplaces.

The “province-wide” occupational health and safety blitz schedule is as follows (the MOL has also released a schedule for its “Provincial Initiatives” and “Regional Initiatives”, which can be found on the MOL’s website):

Focus

Sector/Business Type

Date

Struck By Hazards  Construction May – June 2015
New and Young Workers  Industrial May – August 2015
Trenching Hazards  Construction July – August 2015
Mobile Equipment Traffic Control Measures  Mining July – August 2015
Material Handling  Industrial September 14 –
October 23, 2015
Heavy Equipment Operation  Construction October –
November 2015
Modular Training  Mining October –
November 2015
Safe Operation of Machinery  Industrial January 18 –
February 26, 2016
Occupational Disease

 

Mining February -
March 2016

 

 
Ontario MOL Releases 2015-16 Safety Inspection Blitz Schedule

Injured Worker’s Act was Not Foreseeable: OHSA Charges Against Employer Dismissed

Recently, an Ontario court dismissed Occupational Health and Safety Act charges against an employer where the injured worker’s unexpected and unauthorized act led to his injury.

The worker used an overhead crane to rotate a large spindle that weighed about 10,000 pounds.  He threaded a piece of rebar through one of the holes on the spindle and attached hooks for the overhead crane to each end of the rebar.  Tragically, the spindle fell off its stand and onto his foot, which had to be amputated.

The Ministry of Labour charged the employer with failing to ensure that the spindle was moved safely and failing to properly train the injured worker.

The court concluded that the injured worker’s supervisor had not instructed him to rotate the spindle.  The court also concluded that a reasonable employer could not have foreseen that the injured worker would rotate the spindle on his own and do it in the manner that he did, because: there was no evidence that a junior employee had ever previously tried to move a large piece of equipment like the spindle before; there was an unwritten protocol in place which the injured worker acknowledged that he understood; the way in which the worker rotated the spindle was contrary to his training; and he attempted to rotate the spindle on his own even though that work had always been done by material handlers or supervisors.  The injured worker conceded that he had failed to follow his training.

Further, the employer had provided an orientation session and overhead crane training to the injured worker.

Interestingly, the court also noted that the Ministry of Labour had not issued a stop work order requiring the employer to stop rotating spindles, suggesting that the inspector must have concluded that the employer’s procedure was adequate for the protection of workers.

In conclusion, the court held that the employer had established due diligence: it took every reasonable precaution in the circumstances, and could not have anticipated that the injured worker would rotate the spindle.  The OHSA charges were dismissed.

R. v. ABS Machining Inc., 2015 ONCJ 213 (CanLII)

Injured Worker’s Act was Not Foreseeable: OHSA Charges Against Employer Dismissed

Company owner convicted, fined under OHSA for failing to co-operate with MOL inspector

A widely-reported fire at a Kingston construction site that required the evacuation of a crane operator by helicopter, has resulted in fines against the owner of the company that supplied the crane operator.

To avoid the heat from the fire, the crane operator was forced to crawl out on the boom of the crane, which was about 100 metres in the air. A military helicopter rescued him.

Shortly after the incident, a Ministry of Labour inspector contacted the company owner to request crane records.  The owner provided some but not all of the information. The MOL inspector attempted to interview the owner but was unable to reach him by telephone or at his residence.

The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act provides, in section 62, that no person shall hinder or obstruct an inspector; every person shall co-operate in respect of an inspector’s investigation; and no person shall provide false information to an inspector or refuse to provide information required by an inspector.

The company owner was charged with and convicted of the Occupational Health and Safety Act offences of (1) knowingly furnishing an inspector with false information or neglecting or refusing to furnish information required by an inspector, and (2) failing to furnish all necessary means in the person’s power to facilitate any entry, search, inspection, investigation, examination, testing or inquiry by an inspector. He was personally fined $19,000.00.  His company was also found guilty of failing to comply with a requirement of an inspector, and was fined $8,000.00.

This case illustrates the broad powers of Ministry of Labour inspectors and the consequences of interfering with an inspector’s investigation.

The Ministry of Labour’s press release may be read here.

Company owner convicted, fined under OHSA for failing to co-operate with MOL inspector

“Classic bullying” in company washroom, “which is the traditional hang out of bullies”, lands employee three-day suspension

A 6’2′, 300-lb employee’s hostile, intimidating comment to a smaller co-worker in the company washroom was just cause for a three-day suspension, an arbitrator has decided.

The evidence was that the suspended employee said, “I am your worst nightmare” to the co-worker as he stood over him in a threatening way.  The co-worker was 5’8″ tall and did not have the use of his left arm.

Although the union argued that the comment was said “in a joking manner”, the arbitrator disagreed. She held that the line, “I am your worst nightmare” meant “I am someone you should be afraid of”.  It was “classic bullying” which took place in the washroom “which is the traditional hang out of bullies”.  The arbitrator found that the employee had perceived that his co-worker was anxious and tried to intimidate him.

The arbitrator stated:

“The grievor’s comment was not specifically a threat of physical harm but it was a violation of the company’s Workplace Violence Policy because it was inappropriate behaviour that could insinuate violence and because it was hostile language that would be intimidating to a reasonable person. The conduct was just cause for some discipline. It was not a first offence because the grievor received a one day suspension a few months before for making a threatening comment. The three day suspension he received was, therefore, in accordance with the principles of progressive discipline.”

The decision is part of a growing line of post-Bill 168 cases in which arbitrators have shown decreasing tolerance for workplace violence and harassment.  Even one threatening comment can result in discipline.

Workers United Canada Council v Winners Merchants International, 2015 CanLII 21612 (ON LA)

“Classic bullying” in company washroom, “which is the traditional hang out of bullies”, lands employee three-day suspension

Even “inspecting” equipment is “working on it”: employer guilty of OHSA charge where employees had not even started maintenance work

A maintenance electrician had “worked on” a stuck shipping door when he simply “inspected” it, even though he had not actually performed maintenance on it, a court has ruled.  He was injured when the door fell on him.  The employer was found guilty of failing to ensure that the door was “blocked” before employees worked on it.

The maintenance employee testified that he “took a look at the controller [for the door] just to make sure, looked in to make sure that the P-L-C was powered up”.  He agreed that he was “merely inspecting, trying to determine what the problem was.”

The trial justice found that “some level of work” took place, and therefore that the employer was guilty of the offence of failing to ensure that the shipping door was blocked before it was “adjusted, repaired, or [had] work performed on it”, contrary to the Industrial Establishments regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. 

The appeal judge agreed and upheld the conviction.  He stated that the OHSA did not require that a “minimum or threshold amount of work be performed” before the requirements of the OHSA are triggered.  The maintenance employee’s checks of the electrical system for the door amounted to “some work” and therefore the obligation to “block” the door had been triggered.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Maple Lodge Farms, 2015 ONCJ 172 (CanLII)

 

Even “inspecting” equipment is “working on it”: employer guilty of OHSA charge where employees had not even started maintenance work

36-year employee properly dismissed for “unprovoked momentary outburst” with knife

A 57 year old employee with 36 years of service was properly fired for one incident in which he cut another employee with a knife, a labour arbitrator has decided.

The employee was a custodian with a textiles company.  He carried two “utility/box” cutting knives, which had short retractable blades.  While eating lunch one day, he became annoyed when a co-worker banged on the lid of his Tupperware container, causing several loud noises.  The employee produced two utility knives and said to the co-worker, “Would you like the curved blade or the straight blade?”  The employee began to swing one utility knife towards the co-worker’s legs, and then above the table towards his chest.  The co-worker reached out to grab the employee’s arm and, in his attempt to protect himself, received a shallow cut to his forearm, which started to bleed.  About an hour later, while the co-worker was leaving the workplace, the employee said, “You are lucky that I didn’t stab you in the heart.”

The employer fired the employee.  The union grieved the firing.  The employee was also charged with and pleaded guilty to the criminal offences of assault with a weapon and uttering a threat.

At arbitration, the arbitrator upheld the dismissal. He found that there was no justification for the employee’s outburst.  Rather, “it was simply an irrational act of anger”.  Although the employee had obtained counselling and anger management training his “unexplainable act” still made it questionable as to whether he would do something similar in future.  Also, the harm to the co-worker could have been grave.  Rather than apologizing to the co-worker, the employee commented that “You are lucky that I didn’t stab you in the heart.”  Further, the judge in the employee’s criminal case ordered that he have no contact with his injured co-worker, which made it very difficult for the employee to return to work.

As a result, the arbitrator was not satisfied that the fact that the employee received counselling and anger management training provided sufficient confidence that he would not engage in similar misconduct if he returned to work.  The fact that the employee’s misconduct was an “unprovoked momentary outburst” was “more of a concern than a consolation”.  Even though the grievor was 57 years  old and had 36 years of service, the discharge was appropriate.  This decision shows arbitrators’ increasing willingness to uphold employers’ decisions to terminate for workplace violence.

Firestone Textiles Company v United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, Local 175, 2014 CanLII 76772 (ON LA)

36-year employee properly dismissed for “unprovoked momentary outburst” with knife

Company that “met or exceeded many industry standards in its operations” still found guilty of OHSA charges

Exceeding industry standards does not, on its own, protect employers from health and safety convictions or fines, a recent court decision shows.

A roofing company was charged with two offences under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. The charges alleged a failure to ensure that roofing workers were adequately protected by a guardrail system that met the requirements of the Construction Projects regulation under the OHSA.  A worker fell off a roof after he had removed both the middle and upper parts of a guardrail system to dump garbage, without tying-off. His sleeve caught on a motorized buggy he was using to transport waste on the roof; both he and the buggy went over the edge.

The court found that the guardrail system was routinely opened up by removing the middle rail and possibly also the top rail.  The original wooden middle rail had been replaced with an iron bar that was not securely fastened, at the time of the accident, to the guardrail system.  The presence of the removable iron bar violated the regulation.  Also, there was no clear process in place for the garbage disposal at the time of the accident.

The court noted that the company had “generally met or exceeded many industry standards in its operations”, and had clear internal policies, weekly production meetings to discuss safety topics, and “Toolbox Talks”.  It also hired outside consultants to teach various health and safety courses and to perform spot audits of safety.  There was evidence that workers who failed to use safety equipment were sent home without pay and given retraining.  The company had even fired long-term employees who repeatedly violated safety rules.

However, none of that was enough to establish the “due diligence” defence, because the company had not taken “all reasonable steps to prevent this accident”.

This case shows that an excellent safety program may not be enough to defeat OHSA charges if the employer failed to properly address even one particular hazard.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Semple Gooder Roofing Corporation, 2015 ONCJ 183 (CanLII)

Company that “met or exceeded many industry standards in its operations” still found guilty of OHSA charges

Manager was not a “competent person” to conduct harassment / violence investigation under Canada Labour Code: Court

The Federal Court has held that a manager was not a “competent person” to conduct a workplace harassment investigation under the Canada Labour Code because the employee who filed the complaint had not agreed that the manager was an “impartial party”.

In December 2011, an employee of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency filed a written complaint alleging “miscommunication, favouritism, humiliation, unfair treatment and a lack of respect” on the part of his supervisor.

The CFIA assigned a manager to undertake a “fact-finding” review of the concerns raised in the complaint.  The manager conducted internal investigations and concluded that there were communication issues and unresolved tension, but no evidence of harassment.

The employee contacted a federal Health and Safety Officer, alleging that the manager was not sufficiently impartial to conduct an investigation. The HSO issued a Direction requiring the CFIA to appoint an impartial person to investigate the complaint pursuant to the Canada Labour Code.  The CFIA appealed that direction to an Appeals Officer of the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal of Canada (who sided with the CFIA), and the employee then appealed to the Federal Court.

The court noted that section 20.9 of Part XX to the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations under the Canada Labour Code sets out procedural obligations of an employer if it receives a complaint of “workplace violence”.  The court held that “harassment may constitute workplace violence, depending on the circumstances”.  The court stated that the alleged harassment in this case could constitute “workplace violence” if after a proper investigation by a competent person it is determined that the harassment could reasonably be expected to cause harm or illness to the employee.  (Workplace Violence is defined in that Regulation as, “any action, conduct, threat or gesture of a person towards an employee in their work place that can reasonably be expected to cause harm, injury or illness to that employee.”

The court noted that under the workplace violence provisions of the Regulation, a person is a “competent person” to conduct a workplace violence investigation if he or she is “impartial and is seen by the parties to be impartial” and has the necessary knowledge, training and experience.

In this case, the employee who filed the complaint did not agree that the manager was impartial.  The court stated:

“What the employer did here was have the Regional Director, Mr. Schmidt, not only institute a pre-screening and fact finding exercise to determine the nature of the complaint and attempt to facilitate mediation, but also conduct a full investigation of the complaint, acting as a competent person under section 20.9(3). In his report, Mr. Schmidt mentions ‘investigation’ eight times and refers to his review of the evidence before him. He was not competent to do so, given there was no agreement that he was an impartial party by the employee and therefore had no authority to conduct any investigation, once the allegation of work place violence was unresolved at the pre-screening stage and still a live issue between the parties.”

As such, the manager’s investigation was essentially unusable, and the court referred the matter back to the Appeals Officer for re-determination of the issues in accordance with the court’s decision.

This decision shows the importance of employers – at least federally-regulated employers who are subject to the Canada Labour Code - of strictly complying with the workplace violence and harassment procedures set out in legislation or regulations.

Public Service Alliance of Canada v. Canada (Attorney General), 2014 FC 1066 (CanLII)

Manager was not a “competent person” to conduct harassment / violence investigation under Canada Labour Code: Court

April 1, 2015: New Working at Heights Training Requirements on Construction Projects

Falls from heights are one of the leading causes of critical injuries and fatalities in Ontario workplaces according to the Ministry of Labour. As a result, beginning April 1, 2015, employers in Ontario must ensure that workers on construction projects who are required to use certain methods of fall protection complete an approved Working at Heights training program.

The Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training Regulation (O. Reg 297/13) (see our previous posts here) has been amended to provide for mandatory Working at Heights training. These amendments come into force April 1, 2015.

However, there is a two-year transition period for certain workers: the Working at Heights training requirements do not apply until April 1, 2017 in respect of a worker who has completed training that meets the requirements of the Construction Projects Regulation (section 26.2 of O. Reg. 213/91) before April 1, 2015. If a worker has not been adequately trained in the use of fall protection systems before April 1, 2015, then the training requirements apply as of April 1, 2015.

Who Must be Trained?

The Working at Heights training requirements apply to workers on construction projects who are required under the Construction Projects Regulation to use any of the following methods of fall protection:

  • A travel restraint system;
  • A fall restricting system;
  • A fall arrest system;
  • A safety net;
  • A work belt; or
  • A safety belt.

The Working at Heights training requirements apply in addition to the existing training requirements under the Construction Projects Regulation with respect to fall protection systems. The fall protection systems training under the Construction Projects Regulation requires, among other things, that a worker who may use a fall protection system is adequately trained in its use and given adequate oral and written instructions by a competent person.

Workers who work at heights and use fall protection systems at workplaces not covered by the Construction Projects Regulation do not have to complete the Working at Heights training at this time.

What Will the Training Cover?

The Chief Prevention Officer (CPO) has established Working at Heights training standards for training programs and for training providers.

The Working at Heights Training Program Standard contains the required information that must be included in a CPO-approved training program. Specifically, the Working at Heights training program will consist of two modules:

  • Module 1: Working at Heights Basic Theory – covers foundational elements on how to work safely at heights. It must be at least three hours long.
  • Module 2: Working at Heights Practical – provides more advanced information on fall protection systems and includes hands-on demonstration of equipment and procedures. It must be at least three and a half hours long.

The Working at Heights Training Provider Standard outlines the requirements for training providers seeking approval by the CPO to deliver an approved training program.

What are the Responsibilities of an Employer?

In respect of a worker who may use one of the methods of fall protection listed above, employers are required to ensure the following:

1. workers have successfully completed a Working at Heights training program that is approved by the CPO as meeting the Working at Heights Training Program Standard that applied at the time of the training

2. the training provider is approved by the CPO as meeting the Working at Heights Training Provider Standard that applied at the time of the training

3. the validity period of a worker’s training has not expired

4. a record of the Working at Heights training is maintained and includes the following information:

  • the name of the worker
  • the name of the approved training provider
  • the date on which the approved training was successfully completed
  • the name of the approved training program that was successfully completed

5. the record of training is available to a Ministry of Labour inspector on request

What is Required in a Record of Training and How do Workers Get It?

According to the Ministry of Labour, an approved training provider is required to provide a worker with proof of training upon successful completion of the training program.

The approved training provider must also notify the CPO of a worker’s successful completion of an approved Working at Heights training program. Upon receipt of such notification, the CPO will issue a wallet-sized proof of training card to the worker. A copy of a worker’s proof of training card issued by the CPO is considered a training record.

The Ministry of Labour will keep a secure, centralized database of all workers who successfully completed the training (collected by the CPO under the authority of the OHSA).  Workers and current or potential employers (with the worker’s consent) will be able to access information about a worker’s successful completion of a Working at Heights training program.

For How Long is the Training Valid?

The training is valid for three years from the date of successful completion of the training program. According to the Ministry of Labour’s “Frequently Asked Questions”, once a worker’s training is no longer valid, the worker can take an approved half-day “refresher” training program (which covers the contents of Module 2) to renew the validity of his or her training.

A worker does not need to retake the Working at Heights training if the worker changes employers during the three-year validity period. An employer should request that new employees provide proof of completion upon hiring.

How Can an Employer Find a CPO-Approved Provider?

The Ministry of Labour website lists CPO-approved Working at Heights training providers and programs, as well as the dates on which they were approved. At the time of writing, there are seven CPO-approved providers listed on the website.

If an employer wishes to deliver “in-house” training to its workers, it must seek CPO approval to become a training provider. More information on the provider application can be found here.

What are the Potential Consequences if an Employer does not Comply?

A Ministry of Labour inspector may request that an employer provide copies of records of Working at Heights training for its workers, or a worker provide a copy of his or her CPO-issued proof of training.  If an employer has not complied with the mandatory Working at Heights training requirements, an inspector may take enforcement action, including issuing orders requiring an employer to comply, issuing a stop work order where an imminent hazard exists, or prosecuting an employer under the Provincial Offences Act, where appropriate.

Keep checking www.occupationalhealthandsafetylaw.com for further updates on this topic.

April 1, 2015: New Working at Heights Training Requirements on Construction Projects

Aggravated damages awarded under OHSA for retaliatory firing

An employer has been ordered to pay aggravated damages – in addition to lost wages – after firing an employee in retaliation for raising safety issues.

The employee worked at a hair salon. She suffered an injury at work as a result of unsafe working conditions.  The employer did not take any steps to address the safety issues, nor did it report the injury to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

After the employee filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, the employer dismissed her. She then filed a safety-reprisal complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The employer did not attend the hearing at the OLRB.

The OLRB found that she was dismissed in retaliation for raising safety concerns. It awarded her lost wages.  Interestingly, the OLRB also awarded her aggravated damages for mental distress, stating that such damages are appropriate where the employer violates a “statutory prohibition”.

The OLRB stated:

“Here the evidence is clear that the circumstances of the Complainant’s dismissal were insensitive, demeaning and humiliating. Mr. Vasiliades callously disregarded her workplace injury, failing to report it to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and pressured her to continue working despite her protestations of the seriousness of her injury. The Complainant was summarily dismissed while on sick leave solely for acting in accordance with the statutory mandate when she reported the hazardous working condition and her injury to the Ministry; she was threatened with arrest were she to set foot on the premises of Pro-Hairlines; she was denied her final paycheque; she was denied the opportunity to collect EI by the Employer’s bogus claim that she was self-employed and its refusal, in total disregard of federal legislation, to issue an ROE to which she was entitled. The Complainant was no longer self-sufficient as a direct result of the Employer’s conduct and suffered loss of self-esteem as she was forced to rely on her father for the basic necessities of food and shelter. Such economic dependence was humiliating for the Complainant.  The psychological and mental distress she suffered was compounded by the lingering physical effects of the serious electrical shock she had sustained due to the hazardous conditions at the workplace for which the Employer was responsible. The Complainant’s sense of loss of dignity and self-respect can be laid directly at the feet of the Employer, acting through Mr. Vasiliades who throughout the dismissal process acted in a manner that was unfair and in bad faith, being both untruthful, misleading and unduly insensitive.”

The OLRB ordered the employer to pay the employee $16,659.00 as damages for lost wages, and $7,500.00 as aggravated damages, for a total of $24,159.00.

Brenda Bastien v 817775 Ontario Limited (Pro-Hairlines), 2014 CanLII 65582 (ON LRB).

Aggravated damages awarded under OHSA for retaliatory firing

OHSA does not protect against retaliation for merely sustaining injury: OLRB

The Occupational Health and Safety Act may protect employees against retaliation for asserting their rights under that Act, but not for merely sustaining an injury, the Ontario Labour Relations Board has decided.

An employee filed a complaint under section 50 of the OHSA. She asserted that by not giving her the job of Manager of Corporate Learning, the employer retaliated against her because she sustained an injury, and that that retaliation violated the OHSA.

The OLRB stated that even if it were true that the employer retaliated against her for sustaining a workplace injury, “sustaining an injury is not an assertion of a right under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and hence there is no basis for a reprisal complaint.

Section 50 of the OHSA provides that an employer must not dismiss, discipline, penalize or intimidate or coerce a worker “because the worker has acted in compliance with this Act or the regulations or an order made thereunder, has sought the enforcement of this Act or the regulations or has given evidence in a proceeding in respect of the enforcement of this Act or the regulations or in an inquest under the Coroners Act.”

None of those circumstances were present in this case.  As such, the OLRB dismissed the retaliation complaint.

Krupp v UNIFOR, Local 229, 2015 CanLII 2111 (ON LRB)

 

OHSA does not protect against retaliation for merely sustaining injury: OLRB

No punches thrown, but employee properly dismissed for yelling, swearing and abusive conduct

An employee need not physically assault a co-worker in order to be dismissed for workplace violence, an arbitrator’s decision shows.

The employer had 8 “Golden Rules” of workplace health, safety and environmental standards.  The employee had signed a document that said he understood that failure to comply with the Golden Rules and all other posted plant safety rules “may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination”.

Less than 3 months later, the employee got into an altercation with a co-worker.  There was yelling, swearing and abusive language.  A third employee intervened to separate the two employees when it looked like they were about to hit each other.

The employer’s investigation found that the employee had called the other employee, who was said to have a heavy build, a “fatass” and made a derogatory reference to the other employee’s sexual orientation.  When the third employee tried to break up the altercation, the employee continued to argue with and antagonize the other employee.  Also, both men had removed their hard hats, indicating that they were preparing to hit each other with their fists.

The union argued that this incident of fighting and violence was at the “low end” of the spectrum.  The union noted that there was no physical contact between the fighting employees; “it was all words”.  Also, there were no physical injuries.

The arbitrator disagreed, finding that the employee chose to use words that directly attacked the other employee’s physical appearance and his sexual orientation.  This was “over and above both employees’ use of more traditional, garden-variety, profanities”.  Further, “particularly hurtful comments directed at an individual’s appearance can, even in the absence of physical violence, warrant termination of employment”.  Further, the employee continued to “egg on” the other employee after the third employee tried to break up the altercation.  Lastly, the plant operated around the clock and the employer required all employees, who had been trained on its workplace violence policy, to exercise some degree of self-restraint.  The employee had, instead, tried to escalate to physical violence and likely would have done so if the third employee had not intervened.

The employee had only 15 months of service, had received extensive training on the employer’s workplace violence policy and harassment policy, and had been given a copy of the employer’s “Golden Rules”. He showed very little insight into how his own behaviour was a contributing factor.  He did not see himself as accountable for his own actions.  He did not apologize until the day of the hearing.

The arbitrator upheld the dismissal.

Unifor Local 80-0 v Certainteed Insulation Canada, 2015 CanLII 600 (ON LA)

No punches thrown, but employee properly dismissed for yelling, swearing and abusive conduct

“Flagrant disregard” of OHSA, failure to report, gets construction company convicted on 5 OHSA charges

A construction company that tried to blame a worker’s fall on his untied boots, has been found guilty of all 5 charges against it under Saskatchewan’s The Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The 18-year-old worker, who had been on the job for 6 or 7 hours, fell at least 20 feet and broke his wrist and 2 vertebra.  He had been working on roof trusses that were 20 to 25 feet off the ground. He had not received any training and there was no fall protection equipment provided.

The contruction company argued that the worker was not its employee but rather was an independent contractor. The court rejected that argument, finding that the worker was under the direction of the owner’s son; had no independent control of his employment; his wages were set by the company’s owner; no one ever suggested to him that he was a self-employed contractor; and he considered himself to be an employee.

The contruction company failed to report the accident to Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety. A representative of Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety testified that they had received notice from Worker’s Compensation, not the company.  As such, the court convicted the company of failing to report to Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety where a worker is required to be admitted to a hospital as an inpatient for a period of 72 hours.

The court also convicted the employer of failing to train; not providing fall protection equipment; failing to provide competent supervision (which was clear because the company violated basic requirements under the OHSA); and failing to ensure that the worker wore approved industrial protective headgear.

The owner of the company argued that the injured worker caused the accident as his boots were not tied.  The court noted that that was irrelevant as the employer had a duty to supervise and ensure proper safety procedures on the work site were followed.  It is generally not prudent to attempt to blame the injured worker for a relatively minor transgression when the company committed serious safety violations.

As such, the court found the company guilty on all 5 charges under The Occupational Health and Safety Act.

R. v Fred Thue Construction Ltd., 2014 SKPC 168 (CanLII)

“Flagrant disregard” of OHSA, failure to report, gets construction company convicted on 5 OHSA charges

OHSA charges were adequately particularized, court finds: disclosure showed violations Crown intended to prove

A judge has rejected an employer’s argument that Occupational Health and Safety Act charges against it were unclear and that the Crown was required to provide further “particulars” of the charges so the employer could defend itself after an employee was electrocuted.

“Particulars” are details, provided in addition to the charges themselves, that help the defendant understand what it is accused of doing or failing to do.

There were two charges against the employer, a company that provided commercial and residential electrical services: (1) a failure to provide adequate training, and (2) a failure to ensure that an electrical installation was serviced, repaired or dismantled in accordance with the latest version of CSA standard, “CSA C22.1, ‘Canadian Electrical Code Part 1′, Safety Standard for Electrical Installations”.

The company argued that it required particulars of the 2 charges so that it could know what it “did or did not do that it should have done” to prevent the employee’s death.

The court noted that the effect of ordering that the Crown provide further particulars is that the Crown must prove the offence, as particularized, beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court ultimately decided that the disclosure provided to the employer indicated what witnesses are expected to say happened. The disclosure suggested that the Crown would seek to prove that the company had no supervisors on site with the worker. The disclosure included an expert’s report that concluded that the electrical work being done by the worker was not being performed in a safe manner as set out in the CSA standard.

The court decided that an order for particulars was unnecessary and would unreasonably restrict the Crown’s case.  Further, the judge said, “I fail to see how Longard does not know the case it is facing”.

R. v. R.D. Longard Services Ltd., 2014 NSPC 100 (CanLII)

OHSA charges were adequately particularized, court finds: disclosure showed violations Crown intended to prove

“Who is a supervisor?” Ontario Ministry of Labour releases guideline

Employers often struggle with the question of who is a “supervisor” under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. The answer to that question is obviously important because supervisors have legal duties under the OHSA, violations of which can lead to charges and fines.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has recently released a “guideline” called, ”Who is a Supervisor under the Occupational Health and Safety Act?”

The MOL provides, in that guideline, two lists of “powers and responsibilities that may be exercised or carried out by a supervisor”. The MOL says that the first list includes powers that are “primary indicators of being in a supervisory role”, and the second list “includes responsibilities that would generally be carried out on the job site by a front-line supervisor who interacts directly with workers”:

“1.  Powers that are primary indicators of being in a supervisory role include the power to:

  • hire, fire or discipline,
  • recommend hiring, firing or discipline,
  • promote, demote or transfer,
  • decide a worker’s rate of pay,
  • award bonuses,
  • approve vacation time,
  • grant leaves of absence, or
  • enforce procedures established to protect worker health and safety.

2.  A person with none of the powers listed above could still be a supervisor as defined in the OHSA, if he or she has some of the following responsibilities:

  • determining the tasks to be done, and by whom,
  • directing and monitoring how work is performed,
  • managing available resources such as staff, facilities, equipment, budget,
  • deciding on and arranging for equipment to be used on a job site,
  • deciding the make-up of a work crew,
  • deciding on and scheduling hours of work,
  • dealing directly with workers’ complaints, or
  • directing staff and other resources to address health and safety concerns.”

The MOL guidance goes on to provide examples as well as summaries of relevant court decisions.

Ontario employers, particularly those in safety-sensitive businesses, should familiarize themselves with the guideline, and ensure that all supervisors (1) know that they are “supervisors” under the OHSA, (2) have taken the MOL’s required basic supervisory safety awareness training, (3) are fully aware of their duties under the OHSA, and (4) have received the workplace-specific safety training necessary for them to comply with their duties under the OHSA.

“Who is a supervisor?” Ontario Ministry of Labour releases guideline

Update on changes to WHMIS requirements and transition period

Work Safe Alberta has released an Occupational Health and Safety bulletin to assist Alberta employers and workers understand the impact of the recent amendments to the federal WHMIS legislation ( see my earlier blog post Federal government announces changes to WHMIS Legislation ) particularly during the transition period when suppliers have the option to comply with either the new WHMIS system (WHMIS 2015) or the old system (WHMIS 1988).

During the transition period, Alberta employers may receive hazardous products that follow either WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015. Employers will need to be familiar with both systems and be able to educate and train workers on both systems. The Work Safe Alberta bulletin provides guidance to employers in meeting their WHMIS obligations during this transition period and until Alberta’s occupational health and safety legislation is amended to align with the federal WHMIS changes.

The Work Safe Alberta bulletin can be found here.

The federal transitional requirements can be found in the Canada Gazette Part II.

Update on changes to WHMIS requirements and transition period

Constructor made mistake of law, not fact: convicted of OHSA charge

A constructor that argued the “mistake of fact” due diligence defence was instead found to have made a “mistake of law” and was convicted of a charge under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. 

A construction employee was injured when a large slab of ice fell from the face wall of a water intake tunnel being constructed.  A few minutes before, workmen suspended by a crane in a basket had been chipping away ice from that area.  The constructor was charged with three offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  The second charge, which the Ministry of Labour inspector admitted alleged “technical” safety violations that played no role in the accident, alleged that the constructor failed to ensure that a load rating chart, prepared by a professional engineer, was affixed in a conspicuous place on the crane.

The crane operator admitted that he was “still waiting” to receive the load rating chart from the professional engineer.  As such, the appeal court found that the constructor guilty on the second charge.

The constructor argued the “mistake of fact” branch of the due diligence defence. It argued that there was a rating chart at the base of a removable plywood platform (that is, at the workers’ feet) that was a suitable “variation” on the legal requirement.  It also purported to rely on a “comfort” letter from an engineering firm. The appeal court held, however, that any mistakes the constructor made were “mistakes of law not fact”: the variations were not permissible because the employer had not given written notice to the joint health and safety committee, and the engineering firm’s letter did not refer to the regulation and could not, in any event, displace the requirements of the regulation.  A mistake of law is not a defence.  As such, the constructor was convicted on the rating chart charge.  Two other charges against the constructor were dismissed.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Dufferin Construction Company, 2014 ONCJ 652

 

Constructor made mistake of law, not fact: convicted of OHSA charge