An Ontario judge has imposed a $1,050,000 fine against Vale Canada Limited, the highest fine ever imposed under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. It appears that the previous record fine, handed down in 2010, had been $850,000.
Vale is also required to pay a Victim Fine Surcharge of 25%, bringing the total to $1,312,500.
The fine resulted from a double-fatality after an uncontrolled release of broken rock and ore buried one worker and hit the other in a Sudbury mine.
Vale pleaded guilty to three counts under the Occupational Health and Safety Act including failing to prevent the movement of material through an ore pass while hazardous conditions (a hang-up of broken rock and ore).
Mr. Justice Randall Lalande of the Ontario Court of Justice sentenced Vale to a fine of $350,000 on each count. The Ministry of Labour, in its press release, notes that “This is the highest ever total fine levied by a Court in Ontario for contraventions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.”
According to the Sudbury Star, Vale and the Ministry of Labour presented a joint-submission to the court, that the fine be $350,000 per count. The court accepted the joint submission.
The maximum fine under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for a corporation is $500,000 per count.
What were the factors that led the court to impose this historic fine? It appears that Vale’s size, the fact that two workers died, and the OHSA record of Vale were signficant factors.
In particular, Inco, the operations of which Vale purchased, was convicted in 2001 of two charges under the OHSA and fined $650,000 ($325,000.00 per count) after a worker died. It was noted at the time that Inco had 11 prior convictions.
Earlier this month, the Ontario Court of Appeal imposed a fine of $750,000 for criminal negligence causing death, on Metron Construction – up from the $200,000 fine imposed by the trial judge. In that case, the Court of Appeal stated that the cases under the OHSA “revealed a range of fines between $115,000 and $425,000 for cases involving fatalities.”
The Vale (OHSA) and Metron Construction (Criminal Code) fines seem to suggest that fines, particularly in fatality cases, are rising in Ontario. Employers should take note.
The Ministry of Labour’s press release may be found here.