Criminal Consequence of Safety Violations
In R. v. Metron Construction Corp., the Ontario Court of Appeal dramatically increased a fine imposed on the defendant Metron following its guilty plea to a charge of criminal negligence causing death, from $200,000 to $750,000.
Metron had entered into an agreement to restore concrete balconies on two highrise buildings. To perform this work, it acquired “swing stages”. Each swing stage was 40 feet long and consisted of four 10 foot long modules held together by plates and bolts. One of the swing stages collapsed at the end of the working day with five workers and a site supervisor on board, causing four of the men to fall to their deaths. The swing stage in question had only two life lines, though one was required for each worker under Occupational Health and Safety legislation. The swing stage did not have any marking, serial numbers, identifiers or labels describing its maximum capacity, as required by legislation and industry practice.
Forensic investigations showed the swing stage collapse was caused by its defective design and inability to withstand the combined weight of the six men and their equipment. Had six life lines been available and the workers been attached as required by applicable regulations and industry standards, the men would have survived.
As a result of the acts and omissions of its site supervisor in failing to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm and death, Metron pled guilty to criminal negligence causing death.
The trial judge fined Metron $200,000, plus a victim fine surcharge of 15% or $30,000. He observed that this was three times the net earnings of the business in its last profitable year and concluded that the $1 million sentence recommended by the Crown would drive the Company into bankruptcy.
The Court of Appeal found that a fine of $200,000 “fails to convey the need to deliver a message on the importance of worker safety. Indeed, some might treat such a fine as simply a cost of doing business”. The appeal was granted and Metron was sentenced to pay a fine of $750,000. With the sentence imposed, the Ontario Court of Appeal sent a strong message regarding the importance of worker safety.
liability occupational health and safety