In what should serve as a stark reminder for both employers and individuals, police in Ontario have charged a corporate employer and two individuals with criminal negligence causing death after a fatal workplace accident at a construction project. These events demonstrate that while criminal prosecutions for workplace accidents remain rare, the police will not hesitate to pursue criminal charges as they deem appropriate.
The accident occurred while employees from the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s Public Works Department were working in an excavation at the City landfill. The City had contracted with Millennium Crane Rentals to provide an 80 ton mobile crane and crane operator to assist in placing concrete structures into the excavation. While all the facts are not publicly known, it appears that the crane fell into the excavation while it was being repositioned. Two City employees were working in the excavation at the time and one was pinned across the stomach and pelvis by the crane. He was extricated by the Sault Ste. Marie Fire Service and rushed to a nearby hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries. The second worker was not hurt.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour laid five charges under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act against Millennium Crane. The Sault Ste. Marie Police Service also charged Millennium Crane, the individual crane owner, and the crane operator with criminal negligence causing death. This is the first time that an Ontario corporation has been charged with criminal negligence since amendments to the Criminal Code, designed to make it easier for the Crown to prove criminal negligence against a corporation, were enacted. If convicted, Millennium Crane faces an unlimited fine and each individual charged faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The first court date for the criminal charges is March 22, 2010.
For more information please see Heenan Blaikie’s OHS & WSIB Management Update ” OH&S Corporate Criminal Liability Rears Its Head Again in Canada”.