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Scaffolding accident involving migrant workers: charges with fines of up to $17,000,000

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The Ministry of Labour just laid charges carrying fines of up to $17,000,000 against two companies that ran and supplied a platform that collapsed last year. There were also charges against executives and supervisors that could carry fines and time in jail.

What happened?

Five eastern European workers fell 13 storeys from an apartment building on Christmas Eve 2009. Four died and one suffered serious leg and spinal injuries.

The Ministry of Labour conducted a seven-month investigation, and subsequently laid charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act against the company that employed the workers, the director of that company, and the workers’ supervisor. The platform supplier company and the director of that company were also charged.

Each of the corporate charges has a potential $500,000 fine. Penalties for the individuals range up to $25,000 in fines and a year in jail for each allegation.

Some of the main charges are:

  • Inadequate or no maintenance and supervision
  • A lack of safety training and equipment
  • A failure to ensure workers use proper devices to prevent them from falling
  • A failure to ensure the platform was not overloaded
  • A failure to ensure the platform was designed in accordance with regulations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act

This was one of the worst work tragedies ever in Canada, and it could have been prevented. Apparently, the Ministry of Labour had previously issued stop-work orders involving this worksite because of safety concerns at least two times before the accident occurred.

Will criminal charges be brought against the employer and supervisor? Section 217.1 of the Criminal Code states that “Every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task”. This means organizations and individuals who fail to safeguard workplace health and safety can be criminally liable and experience even more severe consequences than those found under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Will anything be done to punish employers who take advantage of migrant workers who feel they have no entitlement to a safe workplace? Taking short cuts with safety precautions just because a worker will not complain must be punishable.

We shall see; the hearings begin in Toronto on September 30, 2010.

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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