Zero-tolerance safety rules, often called "Life Saving
Rules", "Cardinal Safety Rules" or "Safety
Absolutes", are becoming more common in industry. An
arbitrator has now upheld the firing of a unionized employee for
one violation of a tie-off rule found in "Safety
Absolutes", even though the violation was for a brief period
previously posted on other cases involving such zero-tolerance
safety rules. In some cases, courts and arbitrators have held that
the violation of the safety rule is just cause for dismissal, and
in other cases not.
The employee, a scaffolder for a construction firm in
Newfoundland, was found standing on a steel deck of a scaffold at a
height of about 7′ 2″, and was reaching up to a height
of about 12 feet and leaning out over the unguarded end of the
The "Vale Newfoundland and Labrador Long Harbour Processing
Plant Project", at which the employee was working, had Safety
Absolutes that read, in part:
"Given safety is our first priority on the Long
Harbour Project, it is important that everybody understand our
safety expectations, especially those that can have serious
consequences. There are certain behaviours and actions that can
adversely affect safety and the environment that we simply cannot
permit to exist or happen and we must have zero
These safety absolutes must be strictly enforced on
our Long Harbour Project. Violations of the following will result
in site access being revoked unless there are exceptional
1. Not tied off above 6 feet (1.82 m) where fall
protection is required.
. . .
Failure to comply with a Project Safety Absolute
will result in the individual being removed from the site
indefinitely. The individual will have to reapply through Labour
Relations to come back on site and provide a suitable reason as to
why he/she should be allowed to work on site, and their commitment
to adhere to all HSE requirements. Further failure to adhere to the
site requirements will result in the individual being permanently
removed from site."
There was evidence that the safety absolutes were
"preached" to employees at daily safety meetings; the
employee signed an acknowledgment form that he received a copy of
the employee handbook; the handbook stated that violation of the
safety absolutes would result in "immediate termination and
revocation of site access"; and that the safety absolutes, and
consequences of violating them, were brought to the attention of
the employee at orientation.
The arbitrator upheld the employee's dismissal. In the
arbitrator's opinion, the six foot tie-off rule was reasonable,
"having regard to the risk to health and safety from falling
from the height of six feet or higher, and the fact that a six foot
rule tie-off is in effect at other construction sites in
Newfoundland and Labrador and in other Provinces". The
employee's safety violation was not trivial or insignificant.
He knew that he was in violation of the rule. He had no explanation
for the violation.
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