In R. v. Metron Construction the Ontario Court of Appeal increased Metron’s fine to $750,000 for criminal negligence under the provisions added to the Criminal Code as amended by Bill C-45 regarding criminal liability involving workplace health and safety. To date, no other company in Ontario has been convicted for criminal negligence involving workplace health and safety under the Criminal Code.
Four workers died on Christmas Eve 2009 when a suspended scaffold collapsed fourteen stories at a high rise construction site. Only two workers were permitted on the scaffold. Three of the four deceased workers had marijuana in their system. Metron pled guilty to one count of criminal negligence causing death under sections 22.1(b), 217.1 and 219 of the Criminal Code regarding corporate criminal liability. The owner of Metron entered a guilty plea for charges under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, was fined $90,000 and the Criminal Code charges were withdrawn. Relying on the Occupational Health and Safety Act to determine the appropriate fine, the Trial Judge concluded that $200,000 was appropriate.
Court of Appeal Decision
The appeal court disagreed with the lower court’s fine of $200,000 and said that criminal negligence was a “different and more serious offence than those found under” the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which for fatalities indicated a range for “fines between $115,000 and $425.000″. The Court of Appeal based its increase on the “higher degree or moral blameworthiness and gravity associated” with criminal negligence causing death and factors additional to the “economic viability of the organization and the continued employment of its employees” such as the importance of worker safety under the Criminal Code even if it bankrupts the company. The Court stated:
“The economic viability of a corporation is properly a factor to be considered but it is not determinative. Certainly it is not a condition precedent to the imposition of a fine nor does it necessarily dictate the quantum of the fine.”
Lessons for Employers
Employers should remember that fines under Bill C-45 amendments to the Criminal Code are substantially higher than under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and that failure to strictly comply with health and safety requirements may result in significant fines even if they bankrupt the company. Guidance should be sought from experienced Employment Law Counsel regarding the requirements under Ontario Regulation 213/91 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Lessons for Employees
The substantial fines that Courts are now able to impose should provide some comfort to employees that occupational and health violations under the Criminal Code will be sanctioned severely. This deterrent will hopefully provide a safer workplace with reduced injuries. Employees should also be familiar with employers’ health and safety obligations and not hesitate to inquire if certain safety standards have been met and if not, to insist that they are met. Advice from experienced Employment Law Counsel should always be sought if there is any risk of danger or injury.
See also our blog, “Employer, Corporate Officer Face Criminal Charges for Workplace Deaths”.