Earlier this week the police laid criminal charges against the
engineer who inspected the Algo Mall in Elliot Lake just weeks
before it collapsed killing two women. This follows closely on the
Ontario Court of Appeal's recent decision on the famous Metron
case. Just before Christmas of 2009 three workers and a site
supervisor plunged to their deaths when all of them attempted to
descend from the fourteenth floor of a construction site on a swing
stage designed for only two. Contrary to Ontario Health and
Safety Act (OHSA) Regulations, only one worker was wearing
fall arrest. Three of the four workers, including the site
supervisor who also died, had recently ingested marijuana.
At trial the corporation pleaded guilty to criminal negligence
causing death. Under the Criminal Code, the site
supervisor's actions, under the law, were deemed to be the
actions of the corporation. He was a 'senior officer' and
his actions resulted in the deaths - including his own.
At trial, the owner of Metron was fined under the OHSA at almost
the maximum level available under that Act. But under the
Criminal Code amendments introduced in 2004 following the
Westray disaster, there is no maximum fine for the Criminal
Code offense. The Company can be fined a maximum of $500,000
under the OHSA, but at trial, under the Criminal Code,
with no similar limitation, the trial Judge fined Metro only
$200,000 - less than many fines for fatalities under the OHSA which
IS NOT a criminal statute.
The Court of Appeal, on appeal by the Crown, raised that fine to
$750,000 notwithstanding the fact a fine of that magnitude might
bankrupt Metron. The court found that not to be a deciding factor
in the case. This was an extremely serious criminal act and an
appropriate fine against a corporation must reflect that fact.
The recent charges against Mr. Wood in the Elliot Lake case
demonstrate once again the serious responsibility everyone involved
in construction and related industries have to ensure safety in the
workplace. In the Metron case, only the Company was charged
criminally. In this most recent situation in Elliot Lake, the
engineer has been charged personally with two counts of criminal
negligence causing death and one count of criminal negligence
causing bodily harm. These charges are in addition to charges
brought against him by the Ministry of Labour for providing
'negligent advice'. These latest charges could result in
significant fines and even jail time for Mr. Woods.
It is becoming increasingly clear that our society is prepared
to seriously punish those who through negligence or neglect cause
workplace accidents. Both companies, and the individuals
responsible for them, need to be aware of the significant
responsibility they have to ensure safety in the workplace, and the
very real risks they take if they fail to do so.
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