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“Distracted” by cell phones, forklift operators were guilty of OHSA offence

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Two forklift operators at a bottling plant have been found guilty after they were served with tickets under the Occupational Health and Safety Act charge for using cell phones while sitting on their forklifts. The charge was operating equipment in a manner that may endanger a worker: one could say “distracted driving”, but on a forklift.

A coworker staged a work refusal after observing the forklift operators using cell phones while seated on their forklifts.  A Ministry of Labour inspector was called in.  The coworker, who was retired at the time of trial, testified that one operator was seen sitting on the forklift looking at the cell phone while the forklift was stationary and not moving, and the other operator was seen showing his cell phone to another employee.

The court did not accept the forklift operators’ version of events: one said that he had used his cell phone only to check the time, and the other said that he was off of his forklift and that it was actually another employee who had been using his cellphone.  The court found that they had their cell phones with them and were using them.

The court decided that “operating or using” a forklift included sitting on a forklift even when it was stopped and turned off; other workers and forklifts may be nearby and put at risk by the operator’s distraction and inattention to his surroundings while using the cell phone.  Further, the employer had a clear rule prohibiting use of cell phones in the warehouse, and even displayed a poster with a cell phone with a slash through it.  The operators were therefore guilty of the OHSA charge against them.

The court stated:

“Like motorists who unlawfully hold or use cellphones or other mobile communication devices while operating or driving motor vehicles on public highways in Ontario, workers that use cellphones or other mobile communication devices while operating equipment or machines in factories or warehouses, such as a forklift, would also pose the same danger to themselves or others, as a consequence of being distracted to what is going on around them while using those mobile communication devices.”

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Nault, 2018 ONCJ 321 (CanLII)