A supervisor at a Quebec automobile dealership has pleaded guilty to a criminal charge arising out of a workplace accident at which he was not present. He was not even aware of the employees’ hazardous practice that caused the accident. Although the court granted him an absolute discharge, this case should concern employers and supervisors.
Three employees transferred gasoline from a gas tank to a container using “an old home-made method which was described as a liquid pump connected to a car battery with clips”. The court stated that a safer method involved using specialized equipment – a Gaz Guzler device – which the supervisor knew had not been in working order for some time at the garage. Because of problems transferring the gas, one employee added compressed air into the gas tank. which caused splashes, sparks and a fire. All three employees were injured; one received severe second and third degree burns to 35% of his body.
The supervisor was not present but was in his office at the time of the incident. He mistakenly thought that a siphoning method was used for repairs of this nature.
Despite this, the supervisor pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawfully causing bodily harm under section 269 of the Criminal Code. He was originally charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm, under the “Bill C-45” amendments in 2004 to the Criminal Code.
The court stated, in accepting the guilty plead, that “In his position as manager, he must accept responsibility for his personal fault in not preventing bodily harm and not prohibiting a potentially dangerous procedure. He should have followed and implemented safety measures prescribed for the transfer of gasoline from gasoline tanks requiring repairs” and that “It is not contested that the accused did not intend to injure the victim and he certainly did not want the incident to take place.”
The court nevertheless granted the supervisor an absolute discharge, meaning that he came away with no criminal record. The supervisor was 54 years old, was of good character, and did not have a criminal record, and it was not necessary to enter a conviction against him in order to deter him from future offences or to rehabilitate him. Further, he had gone through difficult circumstances including the death of his wife.
Although this case involved a plea bargain, it is concerning that the court accepted that “not preventing bodily harm and not prohibiting a potentially dangerous procedure” were enough to support a criminal conviction arising from a workplace accident; one would think that something akin to intentional or reckless disregard of safety would be necessary to support a criminal conviction. It will be interesting to see how courts apply the criminal code in future criminal safety charges against supervisors.
R. c. Hritchuk, 2012 QCCS 4525 (CanLII)