Experienced tanker truck driver had right to refuse to drive refrigeration truck without additional training, OHS appeals tribunal rules

A trucking company should have offered a tanker truck driver fresh training before asking him to pull a 53′ refrigerated trailer (referred to as a “reefer” load) which was longer and taller, a health and safety appeals tribunal has ruled.

The driver had four years of experience with the employer driving tanker trucks, as well as experience at a prior employer.  He refused to pull the refrigerated trailer when asked, saying he required training as it was a new assignment.  The employer argued that the driver did not need more training, since his overall training and his experience on the tanker truck were sufficient.

The Tribunal held that driving a refrigeration truck would have been a “new task” for the driver.  The Tribunal stated:

“While I may be prepared to accept that the existence and knowledge of an employee’s past experience may alleviate the extent of the education that would be needed to satisfy the employer’s obligation, this does not exempt the employer from the obligation as such and of the obligation to ascertain the extent to which the past experience may affect the coverage of said education. Furthermore, I do not share the opinion expressed by the appellant that, in regards to the said needed education, Mr. Wilkins had been hired primarily to ‘drive’. An undertaking such as the one operated by the appellant is not solely a driving undertaking but rather a transportation, a road transport, undertaking which, in the course of its activities, as demonstrated by the appellant in the course of the hearing, requires its employees, drivers, to drive/pull various loads using a variety of trailers, each presenting their own characteristics. As such, given the history of Mr. Wilkins’ service with the appellant, being asked to drive/pull a reefer constituted a new task or, to use the wording of the Regulations, his being ‘assigned a new activity’.”

The Tribunal concluded that the employer therefore violated the Canada Labour Code when it failed to give the driver the necessary health and safety education shortly before assigning a new activity – driving the  refrigeration truck – to him.

Further, the Tribunal held that driving the refrigeration truck without having received the appropriate training presented inherent risks and was therefore a “hazardous activity” that posed a danger and a serious threat to the driver’s life or health due to the risk of an accident.  Driving / pulling conditions were affected by the size of a trailer, its shape, the load balance and the axle positioning.  The driver was therefore justified in refusing to drive the refrigeration truck without more training.

Keith Hall & Sons Transport Limited v. Robin Wilkins, 2017 OHSTC 1 (CanLII)

Adrian Miedema

About Adrian Miedema

Adrian is a partner in the Toronto Employment group of Dentons Canada LLP. He advises and represents public- and private-sector employers in employment, health and safety and human rights matters. He appears before employment tribunals and all levels of the Ontario courts on behalf of employers. He also advises employers on strategic and risk management considerations in employment policy and contracts.

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