Metron Construction has been fined $200,000 following a guilty plea to a charge of criminal charge negligence causing death in connection with a tragic accident on Christmas Eve 2009. The accident occurred when a group of six workers were repairing the balcony at a Toronto apartment using a suspended scaffold. The accident happened when a seventh worker attempted to step onto the suspended scaffold, causing it to come apart which tragically resulted in four workers falling to their death. The accident was widely covered in the mainstream media and directly resulted in the appointment of the Tony Dean panel to review the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”).
The Crown had a sought a fine of $1,000,000 but the Court surprised many observers and imposed a fine of $200,000. Representatives of organized labour have criticized the Court’s decision. Ken Neumann, National Director of the United Steelworkers stated in a press release that “…the decision highlights the continued need for the justice community to be better educated on the Westray Act.” Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan stated in a press release that the ruling was ‘disgraceful’ and that “… many bad bosses across the province will simply chalk it up as the cost of doing business.”
The Prosecutor has a right to appeal the judgment with respect to the fine and we would not be surprised if an Appeal was filed. The maximum fine against an employer under the OHSA is $500,000 per count and fines of $200,000 or more have been imposed against employers under the OHSA in serious cases.
It is always important not to over emphasize the results of one specific case. However, assuming the judgment survives the appeal process, it clearly suggests that a criminal conviction will not automatically result in a fine which is dramatically outside the range of fines imposed under the OHSA. Employers should appreciate that each cases turns on its own specific facts and that it is possible in future prosecutions that higher fines and jail time for members of senior management will be obtained.