Can an employer be convicted and fined under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for an accident that resulted in the death of a non-employee? A recent case suggests that the answer is “yes”.
The Ottawa Catholic District School Board has been fined $275,000 under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act after a student died from an explosion in a school classroom.
Students were making barbeques out of steel barrels. A student was cutting a barrel with a hand grinder, and the barrel exploded. Tragically, the student was killed. The Ministry of Labour investigation found that the barrel had been washed out with a flammable cleaner that produced vapours which were ignited by a spark from the grinder.
The school board pleaded guilty to failing, as an employer, to provide information, instruction and supervision to the teacher – note, not the student – concerning safe work practices and recognition of the hazards associated with the class project.
Although this case involved a guilty plea, and thus did not result in detailed reasons from the court, the case shows that employers can be liable even where a non-employee was injured or killed, if the Occupational Health and Safety Act is otherwise breached. Here, the employer’s breach was a failure to properly train the teacher – an employee of the school board – on the hazards associated with the barbecue project. It did not matter that a non-employee was killed; the school still violated the Act, and the amount of the fine was clearly related to the severity of the harm to the non-employee – the tragic death of a student.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour’s press release may be viewed here.