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Saskatchewan Court of Appeal confirms acquittal following workplace fatality in grain terminal

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We previously reported on the acquittal of a Saskatchewan employer after a worker died of suffocation in a grain terminal (see our previous post here). The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal recently dismissed the Crown’s appeal of the acquittal, confirming that the trial judge made no error in finding that the elements of the charges had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

One of the Crown’s arguments was that a workplace injury or death was proof or evidence of a violation of the occupational health and safety legislation. The Court of Appeal noted that this issue did not appear to be settled by the courts and referenced a recent Alberta Court of Appeal case where leave to appeal was granted regarding that same issue (see our previous discussion of R. v. Precision Diversified Oilfield Services Corp., 2017 ABCA 47 here). 

The Court of Appeal reviewed the existing case law and found that where, as in the case before it, the Crown had particularized a charge, the elements of the alleged contravention under the legislation were not necessarily established by proof of the injury or death of an employee at the workplace. While proof of an accident may be enough to establish the elements of the general charge that an employer failed to ensure the health and safety of an employee, where the Crown has particularized a charge, the Crown must prove all of the necessary elements.

In this case, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial judge’s finding that the Crown had failed to prove the elements of the charges. The Court found that that worker had learned through his training that he was not to enter a confined space, such as the receiving pit, until he had received the necessary training and safety procedures for doing so. In addition, the usual procedure to unplug a blockage was a simple process that did not require any specific training or supervision. The trial judge had also made a finding of fact that the deceased had never been told to enter the receiving pit or unplug the blockage. He had only been told to look in the pit and so the employer was not obliged to instruct him on how to perform those other tasks. Finally, while the Court acknowledged that employers have a positive duty to ensure employees are meaningfully aware of hazards, the trial judge’s findings about the training and workplace culture of safety did not lend themselves to a finding that the employer had failed in its duties to the employee.

R. v. Viterra Inc., 2017 SKCA 51 (CanLII)