Vague OHSA charges must be clarified: court orders prosecutor to provide particulars of charge

A judge has ordered a prosecutor to provide “particulars” of a vague charge under the Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Act, so the constructor could understand the charge against it.

The constructor was charged with four OHSA offences following an accident in which an employee was severely injured on a construction site after he activated power to a swing stage (suspended platform) and a metal outrigger fell on him.  The constructor argued that two of the four charges were vague, so that it needed more particulars (details) of those charges in order to defend against them.

The judge referred to the two charges as “general duty” offenses.  The first charge alleged that the constructor had failed to “take every reasonable precaution to ensure the health and safety of a person at a workplace”.  The second charge alleged that the constructor failed “to ensure communication between employers and self-employed persons at a project of information necessary to the health and safety of persons at the project.”  The judge noted that the charges “track[ed] the language of the legislation”.

The judge concluded that the constructor did not risk “being broad-sided by an infinite range of allegations” on the first charge.  The disclosure from the prosecutor indicated that the prosecution would assert that the constructor should not have disassembled the swing stage in the first place, and that having done so, the constructor should have taken precautions to ensure that no employee was hurt as a result.  As such, the constructor knew what the charge was about, and was not entitled to particulars of the first charge.

With respect to the second charge, the judge decided that the disclosure did not provide a “specific enough characterization of the communications that the prosecutor is alleging” the constructor was responsible for making.  Particulars would clarify to whom the prosecutor says the constructor should have communicated and how and what it should have communicated.  As such, the prosecutor was ordered to provide particulars for the second charge.

R. v. McCarthy’s Roofing Limited, 2016 NSPC 21 (CanLII)

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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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