A supervisor at a Quebec automobile dealership has pleaded
guilty to a criminal charge arising out of a workplace accident at
which he was not present. He was not even aware of the
employees' hazardous practice that caused the accident.
Although the court granted him an absolute discharge, this case
should concern employers and supervisors.
Three employees transferred gasoline from a gas tank to a
container using "an old home-made method which was described
as a liquid pump connected to a car battery with clips". The
court stated that a safer method involved using specialized
equipment – a Gaz Guzler device – which the
supervisor knew had not been in working order for some time at the
garage. Because of problems transferring the gas, one employee
added compressed air into the gas tank. which caused splashes,
sparks and a fire. All three employees were injured; one received
severe second and third degree burns to 35% of his body.
The supervisor was not present but was in his office at the time
of the incident. He mistakenly thought that a siphoning method was
used for repairs of this nature.
Despite this, the supervisor pleaded guilty to a charge of
unlawfully causing bodily harm under section 269 of the
Criminal Code. He was originally charged with criminal
negligence causing bodily harm, under the "Bill C-45″
amendments in 2004 to the Criminal Code.
The court stated, in accepting the guilty plead, that "In
his position as manager, he must accept responsibility for his
personal fault in not preventing bodily harm and not prohibiting a
potentially dangerous procedure. He should have followed and
implemented safety measures prescribed for the transfer of gasoline
from gasoline tanks requiring repairs" and that "It is
not contested that the accused did not intend to injure the victim
and he certainly did not want the incident to take place."
The court nevertheless granted the supervisor an absolute
discharge, meaning that he came away with no criminal record. The
supervisor was 54 years old, was of good character, and did not
have a criminal record, and it was not necessary to enter a
conviction against him in order to deter him from future offences
or to rehabilitate him. Further, he had gone through difficult
circumstances including the death of his wife.
Although this case involved a plea bargain, it is concerning
that the court accepted that "not preventing bodily harm and
not prohibiting a potentially dangerous procedure" were enough
to support a criminal conviction arising from a workplace accident;
one would think that something akin to intentional or reckless
disregard of safety would be necessary to support a criminal
conviction. It will be interesting to see how courts apply the
criminal code in future criminal safety charges against
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