Company officials in Ontario have been charged with criminal negligence as a result of a workplace fatality.
Criminal charges were laid after the death of four employees in Toronto on Christmas Eve, 2009. The swing-stage where the employees had been working broke apart while the employees were restoring the exterior of an apartment building. The employees fell 13 storeys. Four employees died, and one suffered serious injuries.
The construction company, Metron Construction Corp., its owner, a supervisor, and a company official have all been charged with four counts of criminal negligence causing death, and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. The charges, which could potentially result in life sentences, were confirmed on October 13th, 2010, by Toronto Police during a press conference.
The criminal charges were laid pursuant to Bill C-45, an amendment to the Criminal Code that came into force in 2004. The law allows for the laying of criminal charges against organizations and corporations for the acts of their representatives. There is a legal duty for those directing work to ensure the health and safety of both their employees and the public. For an organization to be found guilty of committing a crime of negligence, the evidence must show that employees of the organization committed the act, and that a senior officer did not meet the standard of care reasonably expected in the circumstances. It must also be proved that the individual acted carelessly or with reckless disregard for the safety of others.
To date, Bill C-45 has resulted in very few charges. Although the risk of criminal charges may be small, employers must be sure that they understand and comply with their legal obligations. The charges in this case also reiterate the importance of organizations fostering a workplace culture of health and safety, and being proactive to ensure regulatory compliance.
The criminal investigation in this case was conducted independently and did not involve the Ontario Ministry of Labour. However, the Ministry conducted its own investigation, which resulted in Occupational Health and Safety Act charges being laid against the employer, as well as an equipment supplier. Over 60 charges were laid by the Ministry in total. Following the accident, the Ministry also increased the number of safety inspections it performs, and held a blitz to investigate workplaces for fall-related hazards.
The tragic circumstances that resulted in the laying of the criminal and occupational health and safety charges in this case also led to the creation of a provincial health and safety review panel, led by Tony Dean. This case thus acts as a reminder of the importance of health and safety in the workplace, and the serious criminal and other consequences for employers who are found to be in violation of their obligations.