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Material Handling Conviction Overturned: Truck not Handling Material

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The Ontario Court of Appeal has dismissed a “material handling” prosecution involving a road vehicle that was not actually or typically engaged in the handling of materials.

In the case, the employer, Sheehan’s Truck Centre Inc., operated a highway tractor truck sales business in Burlington. Employees were asked to move tractor trucks, which were being displayed by Sheehan’s for sale, to another area to allow paving of a new parking area.  No trailer was attached to the truck at the time.  One employee reversed a truck over another employee, causing him a serious pelvic injury. 

The Ontario Ministry of Labour charged Sheehan’s under section 56 of the Industrial Establishments regulation under the Ontario OHSA alleging that Sheehan’s failed to provide a signaller “[w]here the operator of a vehicle, mobile equipment, crane or similar material handling equipment does not have a full view of the intended path of travel . . .”

Sheehan’s was found not quilty at trial on the basis that the truck was not handling materials so that section 56 did not apply.  An appeal judge overturned that decision, holding that the truck need not be engaged in the “actual handling of materials” but rather must simply be “intended to be used for this purpose”.

The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed with the trial decision and held that Sheehan’s was not guilty.  The court stated that “material handling” in the context of industrial establishments usually:

“(1) is undertaken in an interior or enclosed setting, such as a factory or plant; (2) extends over short distances; and (3) forms part of a broader industrial process involving the movement of materials or products for such purposes as supply, manufacturing, installation, warehousing, shipment and sale.”

These three characteristics did not apply to the truck in question.  As such, Sheehan’s could  not be found guilty of the “material handling” charge on these facts.

Faced with many court decisions applying a “broad, purposive” interpretation to health and safety legislation, employers may have difficulty understanding the boundaries of their obligations.  The Ontario Court of Appeal has, refreshingly, drawn the attention back to the wording of the regulation section in question.  This case may assist employers in dealing with safety inspectors who may seek to impose obligations on employers that do not seem to flow from the section referenced.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Sheehan’s Truck Centre Inc.: http://canlii.ca/en/on/onca/doc/2011/2011onca645/2011onca645.html