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Saskatchewan Court of Appeal confirms acquittal following workplace fatality in grain terminal

We previously reported on the acquittal of a Saskatchewan employer after a worker died of suffocation in a grain terminal (see our previous post here). The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal recently dismissed the Crown’s appeal of the acquittal, confirming that the trial judge made no error in finding that the elements of the charges had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

One of the Crown’s arguments was that a workplace injury or death was proof or evidence of a violation of the occupational health and safety legislation. The Court of Appeal noted that this issue did not appear to be settled by the courts and referenced a recent Alberta Court of Appeal case where leave to appeal was granted regarding that same issue (see our previous discussion of R. v. Precision Diversified Oilfield Services Corp., 2017 ABCA 47 here). 

The Court of Appeal reviewed the existing case law and found that where, as in the case before it, the Crown had particularized a charge, the elements of the alleged contravention under the legislation were not necessarily established by proof of the injury or death of an employee at the workplace. While proof of an accident may be enough to establish the elements of the general charge that an employer failed to ensure the health and safety of an employee, where the Crown has particularized a charge, the Crown must prove all of the necessary elements.

In this case, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial judge’s finding that the Crown had failed to prove the elements of the charges. The Court found that that worker had learned through his training that he was not to enter a confined space, such as the receiving pit, until he had received the necessary training and safety procedures for doing so. In addition, the usual procedure to unplug a blockage was a simple process that did not require any specific training or supervision. The trial judge had also made a finding of fact that the deceased had never been told to enter the receiving pit or unplug the blockage. He had only been told to look in the pit and so the employer was not obliged to instruct him on how to perform those other tasks. Finally, while the Court acknowledged that employers have a positive duty to ensure employees are meaningfully aware of hazards, the trial judge’s findings about the training and workplace culture of safety did not lend themselves to a finding that the employer had failed in its duties to the employee.

R. v. Viterra Inc., 2017 SKCA 51 (CanLII)

Saskatchewan Court of Appeal confirms acquittal following workplace fatality in grain terminal

Citing unfairness, court throws out criminal negligence charge against boom truck operator that was laid after his guilty plea to related OHSA charge

A boom truck operator who pleaded guilty to an Occupational Health and Safety Act charge after a workplace fatality, has had a criminal negligence charge against him stayed by the court. The boom truck toppled over, pinning a worker who died as a result.  The operator’s failure to extend the outriggers and stabilizers resulted in the boom truck toppling over.

The police and Ministry of Labour investigated.  The MOL charged the operator with offences under the OHSA.  Almost two years after the incident, the operator pleaded guilty to one OHSA charge and was fined $3,500.00.  Apparently he thought that that would be the end of the matter.

He was wrong.  Five months after the operator’s guilty plea on the OHSA charge (now more than two years after the incident), the police laid a criminal negligence charge against the operator arising from the same incident.

The court stated, at paragraph 40 of its decision:

“The evidence is clear that both the Ministry of Labour and the OPP had concluded within three days of the incident that they had reasonable and probable grounds to lay charges. The Ministry proceeded to lay charges on May 6, 2013, approximately 11 months following the incident. On April 17, 2014, approximately 11 months following the laying of the charges, the applicant pled guilty to one of the charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Then on September 12, 2014, five months after the plea of guilt, the charge of criminal negligence was laid. In total, 26 months and 23 days expired from the date of the incident to the laying of the criminal negligence charge.”

The court stated that there was no reason why the police and MOL investigations could not have proceeded in tandem. The sequence in which the charges were laid was unfair to the operator. At the very least, the Crown should have given an emphatic notice to the operator that he would likely be charged criminally.  An accused person should be able to have a sense of security, when he makes a decision on a set of charges, that the decision resolves the case in its entirety.  According to the court, to have further charges laid after such a lengthy period of time and after the operator had pleaded guilty to the OHSA charge was unfair.

There was the potential for serious prejudice since the fact that he had pleaded guilty to the OHSA charge could possibly be put before the court in his criminal negligence case. Also, a witness had died in the interim.

The police’s act of laying criminal charges after the operator pleaded guilty to the OHSA charges constituted a breach of the sense of fair play, an act which offends the community. The court therefore stayed the criminal negligence charge, citing a breach of sections 7 (right to life, liberty and the security of the person) and 11(d) (right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

R. v Campbell, 2017 ONSC 3442 (CanLII)

Citing unfairness, court throws out criminal negligence charge against boom truck operator that was laid after his guilty plea to related OHSA charge

Company loses “non suit” application in OHSA prosecution

An Ontario company has lost its argument that an Occupational Health and Safety Act prosecution should be ended before the company called any evidence at trial.

The OHSA charge against the company resulted from a fatality at a construction site after a “curb machine” overturned while being off-loaded from a “float” trailer, crushing a worker who later died. There were no witnesses to the accident.

The charge against the company alleged that the curb machine was moved in a manner that endangered a worker.

The company argued, after the Ministry of Labour prosecutor had finished calling the prosecution witnesses, that the MOL had not proven the cause of the accident, and that as a result, the charge should be dismissed.

The Ministry of Labour argued that the prosecution need not prove the cause of the accident in order to obtain a conviction. The MOL argued that the fact that a worker died was positive evidence that a worker was “endangered”.

The court agreed with the prosecutor and decided not to dismiss the charges for a “non suit” (also called a “motion for a directed verdict of acquittal”). The court decided that there was some evidence in support of each of the elements of the charge. The worker was the driver of the flatbed trailer; the curb machine was found on top of the worker; and the curb machine was located next to the flatbed trailer. As such, the court refused to declare a “non suit”.  Instead, the court asked the company whether it would be calling any evidence or proceeding to final argument.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Cobra Float Services Inc., 2017 ONCJ 388 (CanLII)

 

 

 

Company loses “non suit” application in OHSA prosecution

Student’s violent outbursts justified teacher’s work refusal: OLRB

A student’s history of violent outbursts justified a teacher’s work refusal, the Ontario Labour Relations Board has decided.

The teacher actually engaged in two work refusals: one when the student became violent (which was resolved by removing the student from the teacher’s class), and the second the next day when the teacher realized that the student was back in her class and that the removal had been only for the remainder of the previous day.

The student was in senior kindergarten. He had engaged in violent behavior at the school in the previous school year, including poking another student in the eye with a stick. In senior kindergarten, the student had more violent outbursts including throwing a stool at the teacher; punching another student; trying to bite and scratch the teacher; and kicking the teacher and scratching her face and eye, for which she was required to go to the hospital. The teacher said that it was impossible to predict when the student’s outbursts would occur.

On the day of the teacher’s first work refusal, the student began to push another student. Anticipating an incident, the teacher had the other students removed from the classroom. The student was left with the Educational Assistant, whom the student began to kick and hit. The student also threw toys at the door. The EA was able to calm the student down. While the student was in the classroom with the EA, the teacher went to the principal’s office and said that she (the teacher) was exercising her right to refuse unsafe work. The principal, after consulting with the teacher, removed the student from the class and spent the rest of the day in the principal’s office.

The next day, the teacher came to school and found the student back in her class. She again refused to work, saying she was concerned that the student would have another violent outburst. A Ministry of Labour inspector attended and determined that there was no reason for the teacher to refuse work under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The teacher’s union appealed that decision to the OLRB.

The OLRB decided that the teacher’s first work refusal was not justified under the OHSA because at the time, the student’s health and safety was in imminent jeopardy in that the student was a danger to himself if left alone.   Regulation 857 prohibited teachers from refusing to work where the circumstances were such that the life, health or safety of a student was in imminent jeopardy. However, the second work refusal was justified as the teacher had a genuine and honest concern about her safety as a result of the student’s violent behavior. Given the student’s history, that concern was reasonable. The school had put the teacher in a difficult position: not only was the student returned to class, but no one in administration spoke with the teacher in advance. No new measures had been considered in order to deal with the student’s outbursts.

Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers / Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association v. Toronto Catholic District School Board, 2017 CanLII 37597 (ON LRB)

 

Student’s violent outbursts justified teacher’s work refusal: OLRB

SCC upholds employer’s “no free accident” alcohol and drug policy: Stewart v Elk Valley

On June 15, 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in Stewart v Elk Valley Coal Corp. (2017 SCC 30). This is a landmark decision, reinforcing the right of employers to take proactive risk mitigation and management measures through alcohol and drug policies to ensure workplace safety.

In this case, Ian Stewart (“Stewart”) worked in a safety-sensitive mine operated by the Elk Valley Coal Corporation, Cardinal River Operations (“Elk Valley”). The employer implemented an alcohol and drug policy, which among other things, required employees to disclose addiction issues before any alcohol or drug-related incident occurred (“Policy”). Employees who self-disclosed would be offered treatment. Employees who failed to self-disclose in advance of an incident and subsequently tested positive for alcohol or drugs, could be terminated.

Read the full article

SCC upholds employer’s “no free accident” alcohol and drug policy: Stewart v Elk Valley

WSIB benefits to be available in Ontario for “chronic or traumatic mental stress” starting in 2018

Ontario has amended the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act to make WSIB benefits available for “chronic or traumatic mental stress” arising from the workplace, starting January 1, 2018. There will be no retroactive application.

The amendments provide, however, that:

“A worker is not entitled to benefits for mental stress caused by decisions or actions of the worker’s employer relating to the worker’s employment, including a decision to change the work to be performed or the working conditions, to discipline the worker or to terminate the employment.”

As with any type of workplace injury, in order to obtain WSIB benefits for mental stress, the worker must show that the mental stress “arises out of and in the course of” the worker’s employment.  To obtain WSIB benefits for mental stress, the worker must also prove that the mental stress was “chronic” or “traumatic”.

The WSIB has released a draft policy on chronic mental stress and invites comments before July 7, 2017.

Of course, workers employed by employers that are not registered with the WSIB (and not required to be registered) will not be entitled to WSIB benefits for workplace mental stress.

One expects that this change will result in a significant number of claims to the WSIB, since “job stress” is a commonly-raised issue.  Some of those claims might otherwise have manifested themselves as workplace harassment complaints (under the employer’s workplace harassment policy), a harassment application to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, a union grievance, or a claim to the employer’s group benefits insurer under a group long-term disability insurance plan.

A Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal decision in 2014 had determined that the current workplace mental stress provisions of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in that they discriminated against workers with mental disabilities.  The amendments appear to be, at least in part, a response to that decision.

The section of the Bill that relates to amendments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act may be read here.

 

 

WSIB benefits to be available in Ontario for “chronic or traumatic mental stress” starting in 2018

Nova Scotia roofer jailed for 4 months after tenth OHSA conviction

Our blog post of May 29th reported that an Ontario roofer has been sent to jail for one day for an OHSA violation. CBC news has reported that a Nova Scotia judge has sent a roofer in that province to jail for four months after being found guilty for the tenth time of Occupational Health and Safety Act violations – nine of them for failing to ensure that workers used proper fall protection.

According to the CBC, this latest violation occurred only three months after the roofer was sentenced to serve 15 days in jail for previous violations of the OHSA.

This is one of the longest jail terms in Canadian history for violating workplace safety legislation.

CBC reports that the roofer is also required to report all jobs to the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Education for two years.

The CBC article may be found here.

Nova Scotia roofer jailed for 4 months after tenth OHSA conviction

Corporate director jailed for one day, fined $10,000 for OHSA violation; he had been fined twice before

A director of a roofing company who had two previous convictions for violating the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act has been sent to jail for one day after he was convicted for the third time.  He was also fined $10,000 for the same offence.  Jail terms, while still rare, are becoming more common in Ontario for OHSA violations.

The director was charged personally as an employer for failing to ensure that a worker was adequately protected from falling, by use of a travel restraint system, a fall arrest system or a safety net.  A Ministry of Labour inspector had caught the worker working at a height of about 26 feet without fall protection.

The director had been convicted two years earlier for the same offence and fined $4,500, and had also been convicted four years earlier for the same offence and fined $2,000.

The MOL’s press release can be read here.

 

Corporate director jailed for one day, fined $10,000 for OHSA violation; he had been fined twice before

Workplace Violence Prevention Progress Report Issued for Ontario’s Health Care Sector, Proposes Amendments to OHSA

On May 15, 2017, the Ontario Government issued a Progress Report that sets out 23 recommendations and tools aimed at improving workplace violence prevention programs in the province’s health care sector, which, the Report states, is the largest sector in Ontario impacted by workplace violence.

The recommendations and tools in the Report are endorsed by the Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care Leadership Table. The Leadership Table was established in August 2015 as a joint initiative between Ontario’s Minister of Labour and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, with the goal of making health care settings within the province safer.

Of the 23 listed recommendations in the Progress Report, the most notable for employers in Ontario are those that propose to amend the workplace violence provisions of Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act and update the Ministry of Labour’s approach to overseeing workplace violence prevention and control in Ontario’s workplaces, including recommendations to:

  • Amend section 9(31) of the OHSA to allow a designated worker member of the joint health and safety committee to be included in workplace violence investigations under certain circumstances (Status of recommendation: engaging – i.e. consulting with stakeholders);
  • Amend the OHSA to create a requirement about the information to be provided to a worker who experienced a violent incident. Including, for example, the requirement to inform workers of the results of a workplace violence investigation and of any corrective action that has been or that will be taken as a result of the investigation (Status of recommendation: engaging – i.e. consulting with stakeholders);
  • Require the MOL to post all MOL fines against employers in health care that are under $50,000 (Status of recommendation: in progress – i.e. activities underway); and
  • Revise the MOL Health Care Sector Plan to include more details on legislative compliance and requirements with the OHSA’s workplace violence provisions (Status of recommendation: complete).

If implemented, the Report’s recommendations, especially those seeking to amend the OHSA, will likely require all employers in the province, including those outside of the health care sector, to revisit their workplace violence policies and programs. The full Progress Report can be found here.

Workplace Violence Prevention Progress Report Issued for Ontario’s Health Care Sector, Proposes Amendments to OHSA

Alberta government signs Memorandum of Understanding with police services setting out new procedures for investigating serious workplace incidents

The government of Alberta and 10 police services recently signed the Westray Memorandum of Understanding. The announcement was made on the National Day of Mourning, which this year commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Westray Mine disaster that took the lives of 26 underground miners in Nova Scotia.

The MoU defines protocols for investigating serious workplace incidents, intended to help investigators determine if criminal charges are warranted in addition to occupational health and safety charges. Previously, police officers and occupational health and safety officers would typically coordinate their investigations; however, the MoU now provides formal procedures for police officers and occupational health and safety officers to assess the situation and determine whether an incident involves potential occupational health and safety violations, criminal activity, or both.

Following the Westray Mine disaster, the Criminal Code was amended to allow criminal charges to be laid for workplace incidents (Bill C-45 or the “Westray Bill”). These charges are generally reserved for very serious cases and to date, there have not been any prosecutions in Alberta under the Westray Bill.

The news release can be found here.

Alberta government signs Memorandum of Understanding with police services setting out new procedures for investigating serious workplace incidents

B.C. bans employers’ mandatory high heels policies in some workplaces: amendments to footwear regulations now in effect

On April 7, 2017, the British Columbia government amended the footwear regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, BC Reg 296/97 (the “Regulation”) to specify that employers cannot require a worker to wear footwear that is not of a design, construction, and material appropriate to the protection required, or which does not allow the worker to safely perform his or her work.  The driving force behind this amendment was largely to address health and safety issues arising in hospitality workplaces such as restaurants and bars where employers required employees to wear high heels.

Section 8.22 of the Regulation already required footwear to be of a design, construction, and material appropriate to the protection required. The amendment adds that the footwear must allow the worker to safely perform the worker’s work, and introduces the following elements:

  • The addition of “tripping” and the “potential for musculoskeletal injury” to the list of factors in Section 8.22(2) which must be considered when determining the appropriate protection required of footwear; and
  • A provision prohibiting employers from requiring that workers wear footwear which does not comply with the requirements of appropriate design, construction, and material, or which does not allow the worker to safely perform work (Section 8.22(2.1)).The guideline indicates that the Regulation is not intended to interfere with a worker’s choice of footwear if there are no hazards of foot or ankle injury or potential for musculoskeletal injury. A risk assessment should be made to determine what constitutes appropriate footwear in the context of an employee’s particular duties and workplace, taking into account all of the factors in Section 8.22(2).The guideline has been released initially as a “Preliminary Issue” and will remain marked as such for a 60-day period during which time the public may provide comments to WorkSafeBC.
  • Although the guideline specifically addresses high heels, the amendments to the Regulation are not limited to high heels. The additions to Section 8.22 apply to all types of footwear and any employer dress codes or requirements with respect to footwear.
  • On April 28, 2017, WorkSafeBC introduced a new guideline “G.8.22(2.1) High heels” to assist in the interpretation and application of Section 8.22(2.1). The guideline suggests that high heels – given their lack of ankle protection and foot support – would not be appropriate footwear for hospitality workers who walk on different surfaces, including slippery surfaces and stairs, often while carrying food and drinks, such that they are exposed to hazards such as slipping, tripping, uneven terrain, and the potential for musculoskeletal injury.  A dress code requiring these workers to wear high heels would contravene the Regulation.
B.C. bans employers’ mandatory high heels policies in some workplaces: amendments to footwear regulations now in effect

Loader operator entitled to remain in job despite accidents: insufficient warnings and training, decides arbitrator

A labour arbitrator has ordered an employer to return an employee to his loader operator  position despite the employer’s objection that the employee had caused accidents.

The employee, who had almost 40 years of service including 15 as a loader operator, had been involved in eight incidents in which damage to the employer’s property occurred.  His incident rate of 1.2% was the highest amongst all of its yard loader operators.  After the eighth incident, the employer told him that he was disqualified from the loader operator position and was being transferred to the debarker position. The union grieved.

The arbitrator overturned the transfer. She noted that the employer’s evidence was that the employee had been “involved” in the eight incidents.  The most recent warning was five years before the incident, and only warned him to be more aware of the “whereabouts” of other vehicles, and two years earlier that damage to the employer’s property was not “acceptable”.  At no time was he warned or put on notice that he was viewed as a safety risk and that his employment as a loader operator was in jeopardy.

The arbitrator also noted the absence of evidence that employer provided the employee with training of any sort in an attempt to address performance concerns or assess ability to work safely. The evidence did not support the employer’s conclusion, drawn from the record of incidents, that the employee was no longer able to work safely in the yard loader operator position.

The arbitrator stated that she did not minimize the employer’s “very significant obligations to ensure that the workplace is safe, and to respond to safety issues”.  Based on the absence of warnings or training to address the safety concerns, however, she ordered the employer to reinstate the employee to the yard loader operator position.

Columbia Forest Products v United Steelworkers, Local 1-2010, 2017 CanLII 21145 (ON LA)

Loader operator entitled to remain in job despite accidents: insufficient warnings and training, decides arbitrator

Court orders condo owner who harassed building management staff to cease and desist. OHSA harassment provisions applied

A condominium owner who called building management staff offensive and degrading names has been ordered by a judge to cease and desist from harassing them. The decision shows that the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act’s harassment provisions can require an employer to take steps to end harassment by third-parties.

The condo owner frequently and persistently emailed staff.  She also called them degrading names such as “obscenely obese”, “massive hulk” and “tubbo”. She suggested that she was deeply concerned about the management of the building.

The condominium corporation sought a cease-and-desist order from the court. The judge noted that the owner’s “verbal barrage has made work life intolerable” for the staff. The judge described her communications as “antisocial, degrading and harassing”.  Her conduct was workplace harassment under the OHSA. It was clearly unwelcome, and the employer had a legal duty under the OHSA to investigate it.

The judge ordered the condo owner to “cease and desist from uncivil or illegal conduct that violates the Condominium Act or the Rules” of the condo corporation. The judge also ordered her to pay the condo corporation $15,000 for its legal costs in the court proceeding.

York Condominium Corp No 163 v Robinson, 2017 ONSC 2419 (CanLII)

Court orders condo owner who harassed building management staff to cease and desist. OHSA harassment provisions applied

New Requirements for BC Joint Health and Safety Committees

If you operate a workplace in British Columbia with 10 or more workers, you may need to make some changes to your workplace health and safety practices.

Recent amendments to British Columbia’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (OHSR) took effect on April 3, 2017 that introduce new training, evaluation and investigation requirements for worker health and safety representatives and joint health and safety committees.

What’s Old?

Once a BC workplace reaches a certain size, workers must be involved in workplace health and safety. Workplaces that regularly employ 10 to 19 workers must have a worker health and safety representative and workplaces that regularly employ 20 or more workers must establish a joint health and safety committee made up of employer and worker representatives.

The role of worker health and safety representatives and joint committees is to work with the employer to identify and find solutions to workplace health and safety issues. This includes, among other things, identifying unsafe work conditions, dealing with health and safety complaints, evaluating the sufficiency and compliance of health and safety practices and participating in inspections, investigations and inquiries under the Workers Compensation Act and the OHSR.

These requirements remain in place.

What’s New?

The OHSR amendments make changes in three areas:

  • Annual Evaluation of Joint Committees – The employer must ensure that a written evaluation of the joint committee is conducted each year. The evaluation may be completed by the joint committee co-chairs (or their designates), the employer or a third party retained by the employer. WorkSafeBC has created an evaluation tool to assist employers, which can be found at http://worksafebcmedia.com/test/jc/index.php.
  • Training – New worker health and safety representatives and joint committee members must complete health and safety training upon their appointment. Joint committee members must complete 8 hours of training and worker health and safety representatives must complete 4 hours. The requirement is met if the person has previously completed the training.
  • Role in Investigations – Worker health and safety representatives and joint committees must participate in the employer’s workplace health and safety investigations (which are separate from WorkSafeBC investigations). This obligation is not new, but the scope of that participation has been clarified to specifically include providing assistance to the investigator with gathering and analyzing information and identifying corrective action.

The OHSR can be found here.

New Requirements for BC Joint Health and Safety Committees

Safety officer, fired after company loses COR certification, wins wrongful dismissal lawsuit

A safety officer whose duties included maintaining his employer’s Certificate of Recognition (COR) certification was not fired for just cause, a court has decided. The company claimed that it lost its COR certification due to his failure to complete certain COR requirements by an end-of-year deadline.

The judge noted that the COR certification “recognizes a high standard of industrial/commercial safety and thereby creates several associated benefits for companies that maintain certification”, and “A COR designation gives a company significant credibility as a leader in high safety standards. Further, it is a prerequisite to serving certain clientele, such as the municipalities of Edmonton and Calgary, and creates significant reductions in WCB premiums.”

The company lost its COR certification when the safety officer failed to meet certain COR requirements including the requirement that an external auditor receive an application for an audit by the December 31 deadline.  The company viewed this as “‘potentially disastrous’ to the company, as it jeopardized several contracts with both the City of Edmonton and the City of Calgary.”

The court found that the safety officer naively believed that, despite the lack of assistance available to him, he could complete necessary internal safety audits in time or get an extension. The court stated, “Naiveté is not dishonesty.  I find he honestly believed that he would obtain this extension of time.”  The application for an extension of time was rejected, the company lost its COR certification, and the employee was fired.

The court noted that the safety officer had become very ill with an autoimmune disease. Also, his supervisor left the company and his new supervisor worked in another city, which meant that they would no longer have daily interactions. The court decided that the employer had repudiated the employment relationship by eliminating the assistance that the safety officer required from other employees to carry out his duties, and eliminating the supervision and support that he required.  The safety officer had pleaded for help and “this plea fell on deaf ears”.

As such, the termination was without just cause. The safety officer, who had four years of service and earned $82,400 per year, was entitled to six months’ notice of termination.  His damages, after deducting his mitigation income from new employment, were $28,709.00.

We understand that this decision has been appealed.

Tipon v. Fleet Brake Parts & Service Limited, 2017 ABPC 29 (CanLII)

Safety officer, fired after company loses COR certification, wins wrongful dismissal lawsuit

Worker entitled to sue coworker for failure to report absence of or defect in protective equipment: court

An Ontario judge has allowed an injured worker to proceed with his lawsuit against a coworker for failing to report the absence of or defect in fall arrest equipment.

The injured worker was hired by a friend to assist in roofing a customer’s house.  He fell from the roof and was badly injured.  He was not wearing appropriate fall arrest equipment.

The injured worker sued his friend and the homeowner.  He sought to later add a coworker and his company (who apparently were there on the day of the accident, and also completed the roofing work after the accident) as defendants to the lawsuit.  The coworker sought to have the claim against him and his company struck out, arguing that there was no legal cause of action against him. The judge disagreed.  He stated that the injured worker had an “arguable cause of action” against the coworker and his company for negligence, “informed by their failure to report . . . the absence of or defect in any safety equipment [the injured worker] used or any unsafe conditions or contravention of the OSHA [sic] or regulations thereunder, pursuant to s. 28(1)(c) or (d)” of the OHSA.

Those sections of the OHSA impose a legal duty on each worker to “report to his or her employer or supervisor the absence of or defect in any equipment or protective device of which the worker is aware and which may endanger himself, herself or another worker” and “report to his or her employer or supervisor any contravention of this Act or the regulations or the existence of any hazard of which he or she knows.”

Interestingly, the parties appear not to have argued whether the injured worker’s lawsuit was barred by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act because the injury arose out of and in the course of employment.

MacPherson v Samuel, 2017 ONSC 2024 (CanLII)

Worker entitled to sue coworker for failure to report absence of or defect in protective equipment: court

Bullied to death? PEI WCB awards benefits to widow after finding a link between workplace bullying and fatal heart attack

The Workers Compensation Board of Prince Edward Island recently awarded WCB benefits to the widow of a worker who died of a heart attack in November 2013. The worker had suffered a workplace back injury a few months earlier and had recently returned to work. According to the widow’s submissions to the WCB, the worker was bullied at work by his supervisor and did not feel he was receiving the proper support from his employer.

The worker’s family had initially approached the WCB about the availability of benefits, but were advised that because the death was not caused by a workplace injury, benefits were not available to them. The worker’s estate, widow and children subsequently commenced a court action against the employer and supervisor claiming damages. The claim alleged that the worker died from heart failure as a result of workplace bullying, and that the work conditions led to stress, anxiety and physical symptoms which ultimately caused his fatal heart attack.

The Supreme Court of PEI initially dismissed the action on the basis that it did not have jurisdiction as there was a collective agreement in place that governed, and so there were other remedies available to the plaintiffs including grievance arbitration and a WCB claim. On appeal, the PEI Court of Appeal reversed the decision, finding that the PEI Fatal Accidents Act did give the Court jurisdiction over the claim brought by the dependents. The Court of Appeal also considered whether a stay was appropriate on the basis that the claim was within the jurisdiction of the Workers Compensation Act. However, the Court was unable to decide that issue on the limited record, reminding the parties that the WCB can adjudicate and determine whether a right of action is removed by the Workers Compensation Act.

The plaintiffs returned to the WCB seeking a determination. The WCB confirmed that a workplace accident could include bullying and harassment. After receiving submissions from the parties, the WCB determined that the worker’s death was linked to workplace bullying and harassment, thus entitling the widow to benefits. The employer has filed an appeal with the WCB so this is likely not the last word.

While WCB policies may vary across the country, the basic premise behind WCB benefits is the same – the historic trade off whereby employers fund a no-fault insurance scheme to compensate injured workers for workplace injuries and in return, workers give up the right to sue the employer. In order for a claim to be compensable, there must have been a workplace accident.

In Alberta, the WCB’s cardiac policy states that in order for cardiac claims to be compensable:

  • there must be evidence of occupational exposure to factors or events known or presumed to be associated with heart problems; and
  • the time period between the occupational exposure and the onset of the cardiac condition is such that a relationship can be established.

The policy also list some examples of occupational exposures which can cause cardiac conditions, including psychological causes, involving exposure to significant and acute psychological stress.

Therefore, while the PEI decision appears to be a unique case, with the proper facts and medical evidence, and the relatively recent focus on issues of workplace bullying, we can expect to see more claims for benefits relating to workplace bullying and harassment. In the meantime, employers should ensure that they have (and follow!) appropriate policies and procedures in place to address workplace bullying and harassment.

The Court of Appeal decision can be found here.

 

Bullied to death? PEI WCB awards benefits to widow after finding a link between workplace bullying and fatal heart attack

Court Allows the TTC to Implement Random Drug and Alcohol Testing

In a recent decision, the Honourable Justice Marrocco of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice denied the request of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 and Robert Kinnear (the “Applicants”) to restrain the TTC from conducting the random drug and alcohol testing of its employees.

The random testing applies to TTC employees who work in safety sensitive, specified management, senior management and designated executive positions, including the TTC’s CEO. The TTC expects to test 20% of its eligible employees per year, which means that statistically, each eligible employee has the chance of being tested once every five years. If selected, employees will be required to take an alcohol breathalyzer test and an oral fluid drug test. A failure to submit to a random test will be a violation of company policy, and employees who test positive will be considered unfit for duty.

The TTC first introduced random testing to its Fitness for Duty Policy in 2011 and the parties have since been involved in an ongoing arbitration on the same issue, which “has no end in sight”. The TTC approved the implementation of the random testing on March 23, 2016. Shortly thereafter, the Applicants applied to the Court for an injunction to stop the testing until the completion of the arbitration hearing.

The Applicants argued that random drug and alcohol testing would cause employees “irreparable harm” by infringing on the employees’ right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The Applicants also stated that the random testing: increased the likelihood of psychological harm to the employees, could damage the relationship between employees and management, and raised the risk of false-positive results.

In rejecting the Applicants’ arguments, the Court determined that TTC employees in safety-sensitive positions have a reasonably diminished expectation of privacy concerning their drug and alcohol consumption. In particular the Court noted that:

  • The employees’ duties, which include helping people make approximately 1.8 million journeys on the TTC’s system every day, as well as the TTC’s atypical workplace, which is “genuinely Toronto itself”, reasonably diminish the employees’ expectation of privacy concerning drug and alcohol consumption;
  • The TTC has chosen minimally invasive methods to conduct the random testing, which are superior to other methods available on the market;
  • The nature of the Fitness for Duty Policy is both disciplinary and remedial. Employees have the opportunity to challenge any positive results and have some degree of control over the information collected and generated in the testing process; and
  • Employees whose privacy has been “wrongfully infringed” by random testing have the opportunity to claim, and receive, monetary damages.

As such, the Court concluded that the TTC’s random drug and alcohol testing is an appropriate tool, which “will increase public safety”, as follows:

“After considering all the evidence, including the evidence to which I have referred, I am satisfied that, if random testing proceeds, [it] will increase the likelihood that an employee in a safety critical position, who is prone to using drugs or alcohol too close in time to coming to work, will either be ultimately detected when the test result is known or deterred by the prospect of being randomly tested.”

While the decision provides important insight on how the Court will approach the exercise of balancing employee privacy rights with the needs of a safety-sensitive workplace, it must also be remembered that this was an injunction application to prohibit the introduction of the Policy pending the arbitration, not a decision on the merits of the TTC’s Policy, which will be determined at arbitration. That said, the TTC has announced that the random drug and alcohol testing of its employees will begin this month (see the TTC’s press release here). The Court’s decision will likely encourage other employers in Ontario, particularly those in similarly-situated safety-sensitive workplaces, to follow suit.

A copy of the full decision can be found here: Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 113 v. Toronto Transit Commission, 2017 ONSC 2078

Court Allows the TTC to Implement Random Drug and Alcohol Testing

“Your ugly face”: employer’s condescending, aggressive, hostile and profane behaviour in one meeting resulted in constructive dismissal. Nurse awarded 24 months in damages

The Ontario Court of Appeal has upheld a 24-month damage award to a long-service nurse in a doctor’s office who believed that she had been fired during a hostile meeting with her employer.

The doctor for whom she worked wanted her to look into electronic medical records (EMR).  She was overwhelmed with a heavy workload and did not get to it.  The doctor angrily confronted her in a meeting, at which the doctor’s wife was also present.  The court found that the doctor, in his anger, said, “Go! Get out! I am so sick of coming into this office every day and looking at your ugly face.”  He also pointed at her, shouted at her, accused her of being resistant to change, and used profanity during that meeting.  The employee, distraught, left the meeting and never returned to work. The employer treated her as having quit. The employee sued for wrongful dismissal.

The trial judge decided that although the doctor did not intend to dismiss the nurse, he did in fact fire her when he told her to “Go! Get out!”

Even if the doctor had not fired the employee, he had constructively dismissed her, the trial judge stated.  Although the meeting was only one incident, it was sufficient to constitute a constructive dismissal.  The trial judge wrote:

“An employer owes a duty to its employees to treat them fairly, with civility, decency, respect and dignity.  An employer who subjects employees to treatment that renders competent performance of their work impossible, or continued employment intolerable, exposes itself to an action for constructive dismissal.  Where the employer’s treatment of the employee is of sufficient severity and effect, it will be characterized as an unjustified repudiation of the employment contract.”

The trial judge found that the doctor’s behaviour was condescending, aggressive, hostile and profane.  His conduct diminished the nurse’s stature and dignity in the office.  When the doctor saw the emotional impact that his comments had on her at the meeting, he did nothing.  He had made her continued employment intolerable, and effectively destroyed the employment relationship.

The trial judge awarded this 22-year employee 24 months’ salary in damages for wrongful dismissal.  The appeal court upheld this award.

The trial judge’s decision can be read here, and the appeal court’s decision here.

 

“Your ugly face”: employer’s condescending, aggressive, hostile and profane behaviour in one meeting resulted in constructive dismissal. Nurse awarded 24 months in damages

Workers flee during MOL investigation, roofing company fined for obstructing inspector

A roofing company has been fined $40,000 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, including $15,000 for obstructing a Ministry of Labour inspector.

The MOL inspector had gone to the site because of a complaint.  He observed workers on the roof without fall protection, hardhats or safety boots.

According to the MOL press release, the company’s workers “fled the worksite during the investigation, and the company failed to respond to correspondence and the direction of the inspector.”

In additional to the $15,000 fine for obstruction, the company was also fined $20,000 for the lack of fall protection, $2,500 for the lack of hard hats, and $2,500 for the lack of protective footwear, for a total of $40,000.

The MOL press release says that the company had two prior convictions under the OHSA, and that the company’s owner has also been previously convicted and fined under the OHSA.

The Ministry of Labour press release may be found here.

 

Workers flee during MOL investigation, roofing company fined for obstructing inspector