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Company Events are Subject to OHS Legislation – Tragic “Calf Roping” Death at Client Party Results in OHS Charges

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An off-site Customer Appreciation Party during Stampede Week in 2007 has resulted in tragic consequences – and a court decision of interest to employers. The event, held at a hotel, included a “calf roping machine” activity that was suggested by the party planner retained for the event. A young software developer who was helping to operate the machine was struck in the head by a steel lever and later died from the injuries.

The employer was charged under the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act with failing to ensure, as far as it was reasonably practicable to do so, the health and safety of the worker. It was also charged with failing to ensure that all equipment used at the work site would safely perform the function for which it was intended or designed.

The court rejected the company’s argument that occupational health and safety legislation was not intended to apply to off-site workplace parties. Rather, the court found that the location of the company party was a “work site” because the worker’s participation and duties at the event were directed by company personnel, and it was a place where a business purpose of the company was carried out. The company was therefore obligated to ensure the health and safety of its workers and that equipment, including the calf roping machine, was safe.

The employer, however, was found “not guilty” of the charges because it had raised a due diligence defence. The court decided that the accident was not foreseeable and that the company did all that it could do to ensure that the young worker was safe and that the equipment would safely perform its function. The court noted that the company had made clear its expectation that the professional event planner would arrange for only safe activities and the company depended on the planner’s expertise to provide only safe entertainment activities for its customers. Further, the court distinguished between the circumstances of the employer in this case, a small family owned technology company, as compared to “the larger industrial enterprises typically before the courts as a result of industrial accidents.”

Employers need to be aware of their health and safety obligations when hosting parties or client events, even at locations away from the employer’s workplace. Should something go awry resulting in a serious injury or accident to a worker during the event, an employer may face health and safety charges and fines.

R. v. XI Technologies Inc., 2011 ABPC 313 : http://www.canlii.org/en/ab/abpc/doc/2011/2011abpc313/2011abpc313.html