An Ontario court has dismissed charges under
the Occupational Health and Safety Act after
two incidents which the joint health and safety committee did not
identify as posing a "high priority" safety concern.
The charges arose from two incidents on an assembly line at
Magna Seating Inc. in which workers were struck by a
partly-manufactured vehicle seat that had fallen forward from an
upright position, "which is not unlike when someone releases
the lever on a seat in an automobile and the seat falls forward due
to the tension of the seat's springs."
The two charges were: failing to ensure that things were
transported so that they would not tip, collapse or fall; and
failing to ensure that a machine (the conveyor that transported the
seats) was guarded.
The court noted that almost two million seats had been built on
the assembly line with only two documented occasions in which a
seat had fallen forward. In one incident, a worker's lip had
been cut; she required only a Band-Aid. In the second
incident, the seat had struck a worker in the chest; she was taken
to the hospital but was released two hours later with a
prescription for painkillers.
The Justice of the Peace noted that the Joint Health
and Safety Committee, comprised of management and workers, were
aware of the two incidents but had not considered
the seat falling forward issue to be of high priority;
also, the possibility of guarding being implemented was still being
investigated by the joint health and safety committee.
Ultimately, the charges were dismissed because the Justice of
the Peace decided that the conveyor was not a "machine"
within the meaning of that term in the regulation, and Magna had
taken all reasonable care to ensure that workers were not injured
from seats falling forward.
The case shows that having a well-functioning and active joint
health and safety committee can actually help an employer defend
against Occupational Health and Safety Act
charges. If the committee was aware of and considered a safety
issue and determined there was no – or a minimal –
hazard, that is evidence that can assist an employer to show that
it acted with due diligence.
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