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$5.3 million combined OHSA / EPA fine upheld on appeal in Sunrise Propane case: worker’s actions after explosions showed that he was not properly trained

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The dramatic explosions at a propane facility in Toronto in 2008 resulted in the tragic death of one worker and damage to many nearby homes.  An Ontario judge has now upheld a combined fine of more than $5.3 million, plus the 25% “Victim Fine Surcharge”, against Sunshine Propane Energy Group and a related company, and two corporate directors.  We previously wrote about the trial decision and fines.

The appellants were found guilty, after a fourteen-day trial, of a total of seven charges under the Environmental Protection Act and Occupational Health and Safety Act.

With respect to the charge under the OHSA of failing to provide “information and instruction” to the worker, the court noted that the worker who died had only four to five months of experience at the company, and was effectively left in charge of the yard on the day of the explosions, which was “a position prohibited by his lack of education, experience and training”. The trial judge decided that the explosions were a foreseeable event given that an untrained employee had been left in charge, and the appeal court agreed. The appeal judge also agreed that the fact that the worker ran towards the explosions, instead of away from them, showed his lack of training.

The appeal judge also decided that the fines imposed were appropriate. The EPA fines of $5,020,000 (including $100,000 against each of the corporate directors) were unprecedented, but there were a number of “aggravating factors” including the “widespread damage and effects caused by the appellants’ reckless behaviour in conducting truck to truck transfers without licence and with full knowledge of the risk . . .”  Also, “the magnitude of the event was unprecedented in Ontario”.  The OHSA fines of $280,000 were also appropriate in the circumstances.

R. v. Sunrise Propane Energy Group Inc., 2017 ONSC 6954 (CanLII)