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Appeal court upholds $270,000 fine in OHSA matter – when MOL and company agreed on $180,000

A recent Ontario appeal decision is a reminder that courts in Occupational Health and Safety Act prosecutions can award fines higher than even the Ministry of Labour prosecutor requests.

In this unusual case, both a trial Justice of the Peace and appeal judge imposed a fine that was substantially higher than what the MOL prosecutor wanted.

After a six-day trial, the defendant, an auto parts manufacturer, was found guilty on three charges under the OHSA.   The trial Justice of the Peace fined the company a total of $270,000, even though the MOL prosecutor at trial had requested a fine in the range of only $175,000 to $225,000.

The company appealed the amount of the fine, but did not appeal the convictions.  On the appeal, the company argued that the fine was not proportionate, that the trial justice placed undue emphasis on a prior conviction against the company under the OHSA, and that the fine was outside of the acceptable range.  The appeal judge rejected all of those arguments because the employer was a “substantial corporation” (two facilities with a total of 770 people) that was “within a broader group of companies”; the employer had been found guilty on three charges under the OHSA; it was proper to consider the prior conviction (which was in 2004); and the harm to the injured worker was “devastating”: he was rendered a paraplegic when a robot on which he was doing a “quick fix” pressed against him on his back.  The company’s practice was not to lock out / tag out robots when doing a “quick fix”.

Interestingly, on the appeal, the MOL prosecutor and the defence counsel actually agreed that $180,000 would be an appropriate amount for the fine.   The appeal judge effectively rejected that agreement, finding that the $270,000 fine was not “unfit”.

The appeal judge decided that a fine of $270,000 “fell within the appropriate range”. The appeal was dismissed.  The case illustrates the point that, particularly in cases of serious injury to a worker that “offends” the court, there is always a risk that the court will impose a fine that is greater than the amount that the MOL prosecutor wanted.

R. v. Matcor Automotive Inc., 2017 ONCJ 560 (CanLII)

Appeal court upholds $270,000 fine in OHSA matter – when MOL and company agreed on $180,000

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

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

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

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

OLRB confirms 30-day hard-stop deadline for appealing Ontario MOL inspectors’ compliance orders

A recent Ontario Labour Relations Board decision confirms that the 30-day deadline for appealing Ministry of Labour health and safety inspectors’ compliance orders under the Occupational Health and Safety Act cannot not be extended.

An MOL inspector visited a mortuary and issued five compliance orders including an order to seal certain flammable liquids in sealed containers of not more than 23 litres and in a special metal cabinet.

The employer filed its appeal of two orders with the OLRB 40 days after the MOL inspector issued those orders – that is, ten days after the deadline.

The OLRB stated:

There is no provision in the Act that permits the Board to extend the time period prescribed by subsection 61(1) of the Act within which an appeal must be made to the Board.  That is, the Board does not have the discretion to relieve against appeals that are filed beyond the statutory 30 day time frame . . .  Quite simply, the Board does not have the jurisdiction to extend the 30 day time period provided by the Act to appeal an inspector’s order.

As such, the OLRB dismissed the appeal in respect of the two orders that were appealed late.

The decision is a reminder to employers to ensure that if they intend to challenge MOL inspectors’ compliance orders, the appeal must be filed with the OLRB within 30 days.

Ottawa Mortuary Services v Egrmajer, 2017 CanLII 11813 (ON LRB)

OLRB confirms 30-day hard-stop deadline for appealing Ontario MOL inspectors’ compliance orders

Is compliance with industry standards enough to establish due diligence? Alberta Court of Appeal set to consider this issue.

We recently wrote about the decision in R. v. Precision Drilling Canada Ltd., where the Appeal Judge set aside the trial verdicts and ordered a new trial in a workplace fatality case. The Crown sought leave to appeal that decision to the Alberta Court of Appeal.

In the leave to appeal decision, the Alberta Court of Appeal stated that workplace safety was of significant public importance to justify a further appeal. It granted leave to the Crown to advance its appeal on two questions that had not yet been settled by Alberta’s highest court. Those questions were:

  1. Did the Appeal Judge err in law by requiring the Crown, as part of the actus reus of the offence, to negate due diligence or prove negligence?
  2. Did the Appeal Judge err in law in her interpretation and application of the due diligence test?

On the first issue, the Crown argued that the Appeal Judge’s decision required the Crown to prove negligence, or negate due diligence in order to prove the elements of the offence under section 2 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, being the general duty on an employer to ensure the health and safety of its workers. The Court of Appeal noted that as the law currently stands, it was arguable that in order to prove a breach under section 2, the Crown need only prove the fact of employment, the worker’s engagement in the employer’s work, and the worker’s injury or death. It would then be up to the employer to prove due diligence. In this case, the Appeal Judge appeared to require the Crown to prove that the employer committed a wrongful act. As such, the Court of Appeal found that the Crown’s position on this point had merit.

On the second issue, the Crown argued that the Appeal Judge erred in strictly comparing the employer’s practices to generally accepted standard practices in the industry, rather than taking a broader view of what the employer reasonably should have done. The Crown’s position was that while industry standards may set a minimum level of care, they did not determine due diligence. The Court of Appeal agreed that the Appeal Judge’s decision arguably used a due diligence test that required the Crown to disprove compliance with industry standards and government regulation and did not apply the proper foreseeability test or broader due diligence test.

As such, the Alberta Court of Appeal agreed that the appeal could proceed on those two issues. It will be interesting to see how the Court of Appeal ultimately decides these questions and brings clarity to these two important issues. Stay tuned.

R. v. Precision Diversified Oilfield Services Corp., 2017 ABCA 47 (CanLII)

Is compliance with industry standards enough to establish due diligence? Alberta Court of Appeal set to consider this issue.

Trial judge’s misapprehension of the evidence results in new trial for workplace fatality

We previously posted about the trial decision in R. v. Precision Drilling Ltd., 2015 ABPC 115 (CanLII), where the court found the employer guilty of two charges arising from a workplace fatality at a drilling rig. The employer was convicted of failing to ensure the safety of the worker, and failing to eliminate an identified hazard. The employer appealed the convictions.

At trial, one of the issues was the question of industry standards, in particular, the use of an interlock/warning device. On appeal, the court noted that the trial judge had correctly stated that compliance with industry standards and legislation would not, of itself, be enough to establish due diligence. In this case, the appeal court found that the evidence was that the employer did follow industry standards. The trial judge however found that the interlock device was an engineered solution in place with other industry competitors, that could have been used to avoid the accident. The trial judge relied on this in concluding that the employer had not established the defence of due diligence.

The appeal court found that the trial judge’s conclusion about the competitor’s use of the interlock device was contrary to the evidence. In fact, the evidence at trial was that only one competitor had an interlock device on one rig, and that rig was a different type of rig from the rig in question. Further, the Occupational Health and Safety inspectors were not aware of the interlock device prior to the accident. Therefore, the appeal court determined that the trial judge’s misapprehension of the evidence was a palpable and overriding error.  It also found that the trial judge made a number of additional errors in the treatment of the evidence which undermined the verdict.

Further, while the appeal court did not find any error in the trial judge’s decision to admit evidence of the employer’s post-incident conduct at trial relating to its development and use of an interlock device after the accident, the trial judge’s use of that evidence was not supported by the evidence. The appeal court found that, in addition to the error about the industry’s use of the interlock device, there was no evidence that the competitor’s “small bit of common-sense engineering” had an effect on the drilling industry. The interlock device had not been adopted in the Occupational Health and Safety Code and government inspectors did not shut down rigs that did not have the interlock device.

The appeal court allowed the appeal on both counts, setting aside the trial verdicts. Because there was admissible evidence on each of the elements of the charges, rather than entering an acquittal, the appeal court ordered a new trial.

R. v. Precision Drilling Canada Ltd., 2016 ABQB 518 (CanLII)

 

Trial judge’s misapprehension of the evidence results in new trial for workplace fatality

Having failed to obtain and review proper operating manual for machine, employer and supervisor convicted under OHSA

An employer and supervisor who failed to obtain an operator’s manual for a rip saw, and therefore failed to follow it, have been found guilty of offences under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The charges resulted from an accident in which an 18 inch long shard or stake of wood was ejected from a rip saw and pierced the arm of a worker who was working nearby.

The employer argued that the machine had proper safety mechanisms to avoid such incidents, and therefore that the accident was not foreseeable.

The court found that the employer had failed to even obtain the applicable operator’s manual for the machine. There was no evidence that any worker or supervisor had read the manual. The manual noted that there was risk to the operator and “third persons” from “kicked back material”. By not reading the manual, the supervisor had not acquainted himself with the inherent risks associated with the rip saw, nor had he taken the necessary steps to address those risks. The employer could have, for instance, erected a barrier to protect workers from kicked back materials. Further, the employer did not have a program in place to check for broken “anti kickback teeth” or fingers, one of which was found to be broken.

The court stated:

“[T]aking all reasonable care also requires more than just arguing that the best equipment had been purchased and installed, to show what steps had been taken to prevent the event that had occurred . . . Moreover, the defendants would have had to respectively take proper care to acquire knowledge about the measures and requirements to properly operate the rip saw machines safely, to ensure that the machine’s protective elements were functioning properly, and to prevent any of the inherent risks outlined by the manufacturer in the 2007 Operating Manual from occurring, including the risks from splinters and material being kicked back by the machine’s saw blades. Being passive and simply relying on the machine’s internal shields and guards would not demonstrate that either defendant had taken all reasonable steps respectively to ensure the safety of the workers at the Alpa Lumber plant working in the vicinity of Rip Saw #1 while it was operating.”

This case demonstrates that employers cannot rely only on safety features built into machines; instead, employers must demonstrate that employees are familiar with potential hazards of machines and take steps to avoid those hazards.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Alpa Lumber Mills, 2016 ONCJ 675 (CanLII)

Having failed to obtain and review proper operating manual for machine, employer and supervisor convicted under OHSA

“You’re kind of close to those wires”: excavator operator guilty of OHSA charges after hitting power line

An excavator operator has been found guilty of two Occupational Health and Safety Act charges after hitting a power line.

The operator, who was working on a road construction project, was planning to load the excavator onto the float bed of a truck to take it to another worksite.  The truck driver parked under a power line. The operator commented that “You’re kind of close to those wires”, to which the truck driver said, “it’s all right”.

The operator then moved the excavator and hit the power line, which carried 69,000 volts.  The truck driver received an electric shock and fell.  The operator was able to revive the truck driver, who suffered injuries including burns and was off work for a year.

The judge found that the excavator operator was “clearly apprised of the dangerous situation”, as shown by his comment that the truck was “kind of close” to the power line and his statement to the government safety inspector that, “I seen the wires, I knew the wires were there.”  He should have, at the least, refused to load the excavator until the truck was completely away from the power line.  The judge said that “this was clearly an avoidable workplace injury”.

The judge found the operator guilty of two OHSA charges: failing to take every reasonable precaution to protect the safety of himself and others, and carrying out work within 6 metres of a power line without knowing the voltage of the power line.

R. v. Jardine, 2016 NSPC 22 (CanLII)

“You’re kind of close to those wires”: excavator operator guilty of OHSA charges after hitting power line

Three days in jail for owner of roofing business after trying to deceive MOL inspector

The owner of a roofing business has landed in jail for three days after trying to trick a Ministry of Labour inspector following a workplace accident.

Three workers were working on a residential roofing project but the owner did not make fall protection equipment available to them.

According to the MOL press release, after one worker fell 18 feet and injured himself, the owner directed another worker to go up on the roof and set up lifelines and fall protection equipment in order to deceive the MOL inspector.

The owner pleaded guilty to two OHSA offences: attempting to obstruct and interfere with an inspector, and failing to ensure that a worker was protected by a method of fall protection.

The court jailed the owner for three days on the obstruction/interference charge and imposed a $5,000.00 fine on the other charge.

Although for many years there were very few jail terms imposed by courts for OHSA violations, the courts are increasingly willing to impose jail terms for serious violations including attempting to deceive MOL inspectors.

The Ministry of Labour’s press release on this case may be accessed here.

Three days in jail for owner of roofing business after trying to deceive MOL inspector

Appeal of MOL compliance order adjourned while related OHSA prosecution ongoing, despite City’s objection

The Ontario Labour Relations Board has adjourned an appeal of a Ministry of Labour inspector’s compliance order against the City of Sudbury while a related prosecution under the Occupational Health and Safety Act is ongoing, despite the City’s objection.

The MOL laid charges under the OHSA against the City and Interpaving Limited in the Ontario Court of Justice.  Evidently a Ministry of Labour inspector also issued a compliance order against the City. The City appealed the order to the OLRB and the MOL asked the OLRB to adjourn that appeal while the prosecutions (charges) were ongoing in court.  Interpaving agreed that the appeal should be adjourned but the City disagreed.

The OLRB decided that the appeal of the inspector’s compliance order should be adjourned. The issues in that appeal overlapped with the issues in the prosecution. Continuing with the OLRB appeal would likely result in witnesses being required to testify and be cross-examined, which could cause prejudice to the MOL, the City and Interpaving in the prosecutions. Allowing the appeal to proceed first could interfere with the prosecution or result in inconsistent judgments on the same issues. Also, there was no ongoing issue with respect to the appeal because the MOL inspector’s compliance order that was under appeal had been suspended and the work completed.

The OLRB therefore adjourned the appeal for one year, subject to possible further extensions if the OHSA prosecution in the Ontario Court of Justice was not completed within that year.

This decision is consistent with the OLRB’s practice of adjourning appeals of MOL inspectors’ compliance orders while a prosecution, arising out of the same incident or accident, is ongoing in court.

City of Greater Sudbury v A Director under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2016 CanLII 67485 (ON LRB)

Appeal of MOL compliance order adjourned while related OHSA prosecution ongoing, despite City’s objection

After accepting guilty plea, prosecutor cannot reargue trial court’s decision to exclude evidence of worker’s injury when setting fine

The Ministry of Labour cannot reopen a Justice of the Peace’s decision to exclude evidence that a worker was injured, where the defendant company later pleaded guilty to Occupational Health and Safety Act charges and the prosecutor accepted the plea.

At trial, the Justice of the Peace decided to exclude the testimony of the worker who was apparently injured in a workplace accident.  The company then decided to plead guilty to one charge and the prosecutor withdrew the other charge against the company and a separate charge against a contractor to the company.

The parties then argued about the fine, and the Justice of the Peace again excluded the evidence of the apparently injured worker when setting the fine. Presumably the court imposed a fine that was lower due to the lack of any evidence about worker injuries.

The Ministry of Labour thought the fine was too low.  It appealed the decision on the fine, and sought on the appeal to reargue the Justice of the Peace’s decision to exclude the worker’s testimony in considering how much the fine should be.

The appeal judge decided that, having “actively participated” in the guilty plea which ended the trial, the MOL was bound by the Justice of the Peace’s decision to exclude the worker’s evidence about his injury and could not reopen that issue on appeal.  The appeal judge recognized that the result of his ruling on that issue may well end the appeal, because evidence about the worker’s injury would not be considered in arguments about the amount of the fine.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Ontario Power Generation, 2016 ONCJ 299 (CanLII)

After accepting guilty plea, prosecutor cannot reargue trial court’s decision to exclude evidence of worker’s injury when setting fine

Safety topic was emphasized, not “buried in hundreds of power point slides”: employer establishes due diligence, not guilty in workplace fatality

A Saskatchewan employer has been found not guilty of six occupational health and safety charges after a worker died of suffocation when he became engulfed in a grain receiving pit.  The employer’s extensive safety program had emphasized, not buried, the relevant training.

The charges alleged that the employer failed to properly train and instruct the employee regarding safety.

The employer showed that the employee had received computer based training on various topics including confined space safety. He had completed 12 such training modules, 4 of which dealt with the “dangers of engulfment”. At the end of each module, he took a test on which he received a grade of at least 80% which was the pass rate. He also took 5 hands-on training courses including one relating to safe-work permits.

The training materials were replete with references to the dangers of entering a confined space such as a receiving pit. The materials were extensive.  The court rejected the prosecutor’s argument that the confined space training was “buried in dozens of [computer based training modules] in hundreds of power point slides” and therefore would have been “lost” on the worker.  Instead, the court found that the “mass of material emphasized the dangers, and the importance of following safety procedures, rather than burying them.”

Also, there was not a “culture of paying lip service” to safety that would have “detracted” from his safety training.

In this case, the worker was not directed to do anything involving a receiving pit. Instead, he had been given an “innocuous” task which he had also done an hour earlier – to simply take a flashlight and look into the pit to see whether it was empty or there was grain in it.  There was no reason for the employer to think that he would enter the receiving pit. In any event, the employee was properly trained for the work that he was directed to do. The employer had successfully shown due diligence.  All six charges were dismissed.

R v Viterra Inc., 2016 SKQB 269 (CanLII)

Safety topic was emphasized, not “buried in hundreds of power point slides”: employer establishes due diligence, not guilty in workplace fatality

Supervisor’s OHSA conviction upheld on appeal: prosecutor not required to prove what “hazard” caused concrete worker’s death

A supervisor’s Occupational Health and Safety Act conviction of failing to sufficiently and competently supervise work has been upheld on appeal, after a concrete worker died.

The supervisor operated and managed a concrete business.  He was hired to pour a concrete floor in a newly constructed shop.  They used a gas heater to heat the area.  The supervisor became aware that the gas supply hose to the heater produced an electric shock when touched. He warned workers but did not fix the problem.

The worker, who had been trowelling concrete, was later found lying on the floor near the gas heater.  He was later pronounced dead.  The treating doctor observed two red areas on his skin, which were consistent with electrocution.

The prosecutor’s theory at trial was that the worker died from electrocution.  The supervisor suggested that the death was from carbon monoxide poisoning from the gas heater so that the charge, based on electrocution, should be dismissed. Both the trial judge and Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that the contention that the worker died from carbon monoxide poisoning was speculative and not supported by the evidence.

The Court of Appeal further noted that the charge did not specify what “hazard” caused the death, and accordingly the prosecutor did not need to prove the cause.  As such, the supervisor was properly convicted of the “failure to supervise” charge under the OHSA.

R v Farnham, 2016 SKCA 111 (CanLII)

Supervisor’s OHSA conviction upheld on appeal: prosecutor not required to prove what “hazard” caused concrete worker’s death

OHSA conviction, $48,000 fine upheld on appeal: “blocking” of machine required physical block

An Ontario Appeal judge has upheld an employer’s conviction under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failure to “block” a machine, after the trial justice held that “blocking” required a physical block, not simply shutting off the hydraulic power.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour had charged the company with failing to ensure that a “part of a machine, transmission machinery, device or thing shall be cleaned, oiled, adjusted, repaired or have maintenance work performed on it only when . . . any part that has been stopped and that may subsequently move and endanger a worker has been blocked to prevent its movement”, contrary to section 75(b) of the Industrial Establishments regulation under the OHSA.

A maintenance worker with the company, which operated a sawmill, suffered crushing injuries to his arm as he reached in between the “side heads” of a saw while performing maintenance.  Another employee, not knowing that the maintenance worker had gone into the area between the side heads, had used the control box for the machine to close the side heads.

The machine had been shut down for maintenance and its electrical system had been locked out.  However, the maintenance worker left the hydraulics on, which was required in order to move the side heads for maintenance.

The appeal court held that the trial justice had not erred in deciding that “blocking” required a physical block be used to restrain movement of the side heads.  It was reasonable to interpret “blocking” to require that a physical block, a “large solid piece of hard material” be used.

The conviction was therefore upheld. The appeal judge also held that the $48,000 fine was reasonable, despite the fact that the company had only 25 workers and no previous convictions under the OHSA.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. McKenzie Lumber Inc., 2016 ONCJ 533 (CanLII)

 

OHSA conviction, $48,000 fine upheld on appeal: “blocking” of machine required physical block

“Reputable and responsible” owner / operator guilty of OHSA charge after drill rig collapse at York University

After a dramatic and tragic incident in which a large drill rig fell over at York University, fatally injuring a backhoe operator and badly injuring an excavator operator, the company that owned and operated the rig has been found guilty of an offense under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The court described the company as “reputable and responsible”, showing that even safety-oriented companies can be found guilty of OHSA offences if they do not have rigorous processes in place to ensure safety and avoid accidents.

The accident took place in October 2011 on the TTC subway extension project at the university.

The court held that the company had failed to ensure that the soil base under the drill rig was capable of safely supporting the weight of the large drill rig.

The Ministry of Labour called a “world-renowned” engineer, who was an expert in soil conditions, to testify.  He testified that the most likely reason that the drill rig fell over was that the pressure that the drill rig exerted on the ground exceeded the weight-bearing capacity of the ground.

The court further found that there was no evidence that the company took any steps to confirm that the platform on which the drill rig was operated could support the drill rig in accordance with its specifications for stability, and no record of the company confirming that the ground had been prepared sufficiently to support the rig.

The company has not yet been sentenced for the offence, so the fine is not yet known.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Advanced Construction Techniques Ltd., 2016 ONCJ 482 (CanLII)

“Reputable and responsible” owner / operator guilty of OHSA charge after drill rig collapse at York University