An independent contractor was working amongst a group of other
parties on the demolition of a few buildings in downtown Nipawin,
SK when he snagged a gas riser with his backhoe. This led to the
line being pulled from the main which in turn caused gas to seep
into through the ground and pool in the basement of a nearby
butcher shop. Shortly thereafter the gas was ignited by a piece of
machinery in the basement and an explosion occurred killing two
people and seriously injuring five others. The contractor was
found guilty of two Occupational Health and Safety Act
The Court confirmed that an independent contractor has a duty
under the Act to conduct his work, insofar as is reasonably
practicable, in a manner that ensures that he and the other workers
are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. The Court held
that, although the outcome may have been changed if some of the
other parties who had more control over the project had acted
differently; it was not the outcome that was the focus of the
charge, but rather the creation of the risk. The Court found that
the contractor was familiar with the possible consequences of
snagging the gas line and had the time to locate the riser by hand,
using a shovel, instead of a big piece of machinery like the
backhoe. Even though there were other parties involved in managing
the procedures after the snag occurred, it was the contractor who
created the risk by his own independent actions. He "failed to
establish that there was no better practical means than was
actually used to satisfy the onus upon him in this case".
The significance of this case is that it confirms that
occupational health and safety law is not only concerned with the
actions of the party with the most control or primary
responsibility over a worksite or project. Where a party has
some control over the work being performed, he must carry out his
duties in accordance with the Act and ensure that the work is being
conducted in a safe manner.
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