Metron Construction Corp, along with its president, one officer and a supervisor all face criminal charges following a fatal construction accident at a Toronto apartment building. Four workers plunged 13 storeys to their deaths and one worker suffered severe leg and spinal injuries after scaffolding they were working on snapped in half.
The charges include four counts each of criminal negligence causing death, and one count each of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. Despite available legislation, extraordinarily few Canadian employers have ever been criminally charged for workplace safety violations. As such, this case may signal a positive change in the judicial climate concerning the seriousness of workplace safety.
Hesitant Application of Bill C-45
Bill C-45 is a federal amendment to the Canadian Criminal Code that imposes criminal liability for workplace health and safety violations on both organizations and individuals with authority to direct workers. The legislation became law in 2004.
Since that time, according to the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), more than 400 workplace deaths and over 1.5 million workplace injuries have been reported in Ontario. As of September 2010, however, only four cases have involved charges laid under the Bill’s provisions. Of the four, one case has been dropped, two are still before the courts and only one has resulted in a conviction.
Widespread Ignorance of Employee Rights
The Metron Construction Corp case is also a reminder that many employees, and migrant workers in particular, may not be aware of their rights as employees under Canadian employment law. All four workers who died in the scaffolding accident were migrant workers.
Although increased education on employee rights could save lives and prevent injuries, the Ontario Ministry of Labour stepped up their safety inspection efforts following the tragic accident by blitzing work sites for fall-related hazards. Approximately ten percent of the 7,300 field visits resulted in stop-work orders.
Points to Note
As OFL president Sid Ryan noted: “This is the signal to employers that we have been waiting for. It says to every CEO and manager that workers’ deaths are serious matters with real penalties attached and that they had better take safety seriously.”
The seriousness of sentences under the criminal code is demonstrated by fact that penalties have no financial maximum, and could also result in prison terms of up to twenty years. It is thus critical for employers to clearly understand and comply with their employment law obligations. Doing so could prevent liability both to their companies as well as to themselves personally.
Minken Employment Lawyers is your source for expert advice and advocacy on today’s employment law issues.
For more details, see: The Toronto Star (3 charged in scaffold deaths, by Peter Edwards and Curtis Rush, October 14, 2010).