Blog Post #210 – Alberta Court Triples Safety Penalty
Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine
An Alberta court has more than tripled the fine issued against an employer last year in connection with a deadly work-related accident, concluding the lower court imposed an “unfit” sentence.
Justice Sterling Sanderman of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta fined the employer, Independent Automatic Sprinkler Ltd., $350,000 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act — dwarfing the $100,000 penalty ordered by a lower court judge last August.
In his April 30 ruling, Justice Sanderman notes the fine “was demonstrably unfit” and that the circumstances of the accident warrant a higher penalty. “A fine of $100,000 does not recognize the seriousness of the consequences of the degree of negligence,” he writes.
On May 15, 2005, four employees were helping to construct a gymnasium facility in Grande Prairie, Alberta. The team included two journeyman pipefitters tasked with installing a fire suppression sprinkler system at the ceiling level of a stairwell in the gym.
The pipefitters used a material lift — a set of forks and a series of sections that raise the forks when a hand crank is used — instead of a man lift that had been used to raise them to the ceiling elsewhere in the facility. Justice Sanderman points out, however, that the material “lift was never designed nor intended for hoisting or lifting people.”
The ruling notes one worker, Albin Trahan, placed a wooden pallet on the lift’s forks, covered the pallet with two pieces of strand board and then positioned a ladder on top so he could climb the more than eight metres to install the sprinkler. Another worker, Elmer Stroshin, was standing on the pallet to steady the ladder, which was resting against the stairwell wall.
As Trahan “climbed the ladder, the material lift began to tip and the step ladder moved away from the wall,” resulting in both workers falling “with catastrophic results,” Justice Sanderman writes. Trahan sustained fatal injuries when his head struck a guardrail; Stroshin hit a piece of metal protruding from the guardrail and fell to a lower landing, suffering paralysis of the legs and “lower trunk below the chest.”
The Crown argued the sentence of the trial judge was “a substantial and marked departure” from penalties customarily imposed for similar incidents. Justice Sanderman agreed, pointing out the trial judge made “specific findings in relation to the forseeability of someone falling.”
Everyone knows I have been critical about the workplace accident prevention standards for the province of Albertaâ€™s and their true intentions and credibility concerning their workforce. I have made my views known time and time again.
There are times, however, that I must alter my conception when I find something out of the ordinary and congratulate Alberta for doing the right thing. (Not often, but there are times)
Listed above we find that a lower court ruling and subsequent fine was not sufficient with the circumstances. FINALLY! I have always agreed with stiff fines to deter this type of disregard for the employees. The Ministry of Labour, for the Province of Ontario, would never have allowed the company to get away with what amounts to a slap on the wrist.
Deterrence, that is the name of the game. The employer MUST understand that the responsibility of the safety of the employee lies with them. Only then will employees work in a climate of relative safety and the need for review of inadequate rulings and fines made unnecessary.
Good for you, Alberta. I do hope that a review of many of your other issues, such as the Mitchell Tanner accident, will be reviewed, overturned and possible larger fines or new investigations implemented. That particular incident still upsets me to this day. If the readership does not know of the Mitchell Tanner accident, please review the very first blog written by the author. I was angry at the outcome and have been driven since to get the word out about the great need for worker health and safety. Everything from Bill C-45 to todayâ€™s issues will be discussed.
On behalf of myself and the company of HRSGroup Inc., I had to congratulate Alberta for correcting a monumental error at the lower court level. Maybe the need to toughen up the lower court judges is needed. Now THAT would be one hell of a permanent corrective action plan, now wouldn’t it?
Remember â€“ In Ontario and all places across Canada, including Alberta, â€œALL Accidents are Preventableâ€
â€˜Workâ€™ and â€˜Playâ€™ safe.
Daniel L. Beal
VP & Senior Trainer