Appeal Court Triples Fine in Workplace Death Prosecution

The Ontario Court of Appeal recently issued its decision in the Metron case in which a corporation and its directors had been fined for a workplace accident.

The accident occurred just before Christmas in 2009.  On the day of the accident, six workers were descending from the 14th floor of a construction site on a swing stage designed for only two.  The swing stage collapsed sending five of the workers including the site supervisor plunging to the ground.  Four of the five victims died from their injuries.  It was established that at the time of the accident that only one worker was wearing fall arrest restraints.  That worker survived largely unharmed.   In addition to overloading the swing stage and failing to use appropriate fall arrest equipment, three of the four workers, including the site supervisor, had recently ingested marijuana. 

At trial, the corporation pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death.  Under the Criminal Code, the site supervisor was a “senior officer” and his actions were deemed to be the actions of the corporation. The corporation was negligent because the site supervisor allowed workers under the influence of a drug to be on a stage that was not designed for the weight it carried and the workers lacked proper fall arrest and other measures required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”).

At trial, the owner of Metron was fined under the OHSA.  The Company was also fined the sum of $200,000 under provisions of the Criminal Code – 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 the fine against Metron to $750,000 – notwithstanding the fact that a fine of that magnitude might bankrupt the company.  The Court of Appeal found that not to be a deciding factor in the case, and that an appropriate fine against a corporation must reflect the seriousness of this accident.

Employers would be wise to ensure that their senior people understand their obligations under the OHSA and the risks under the Criminal Code.  Failure to do so could put the company out of business.


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