Can Employers be Fined under Safety Laws for Injuries to a Non-Employee?

Can an employer be convicted and fined under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for an accident that resulted in the death of a non-employee?  A recent case suggests that the answer is “yes”.

The Ottawa Catholic District School Board has been fined $275,000 under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act after a student died from an explosion in a school classroom.

Students were making barbeques out of steel barrels. A student was cutting a barrel with a hand grinder, and the barrel exploded. Tragically, the student was killed.  The Ministry of Labour investigation found that the barrel had been washed out with a flammable cleaner that produced vapours which were ignited by a spark from the grinder.

The school board pleaded guilty to failing, as an employer, to provide information, instruction and supervision to the teacher – note, not the student – concerning safe work practices and recognition of the hazards associated with the class project.

Although this case involved a guilty plea, and thus did not result in detailed reasons from the court, the case shows that employers can be liable even where a non-employee was injured or killed, if the Occupational Health and Safety Act is otherwise breached.  Here, the employer’s breach was a failure to properly train the teacher – an employee of the school board – on the hazards associated with the barbecue project.  It did not matter that a non-employee was killed; the school still violated the Act, and the amount of the fine was clearly related to the severity of the harm to the non-employee – the tragic death of a student.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour’s press release may be viewed here.


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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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