Rare Jail Term Imposed in Workplace Fatality Prosecution
A roofing company and its owner recently pled guilty to offences arising from the workplace death of an employee who was working on a small residential project. He fell about six metres from a ladder and landed on a fence. His injuries did not initially appear serious, but, shortly after being driven to the hospital by the owner, he died. The worker had his fall arrest personal protective equipment (PPE) on but it was not engaged.
The owner, who was also acting as the supervisor at the work site, initially misled the police and the Ministry of Labour (MOL) about the accident’s circumstances. He told both that the deceased was not working on a commercial project but rather helping out as a friend installing roofing on the owner’s home.
For its failures to: (1) ensure the worker had his fall arrest engaged, and; (2) report the accident to the MOL, the company was levied the relatively low fine of $50,000 (exclusive of the mandatory 25 per cent surcharge), reflecting the company’s small size and revenues.
But the owner was sentenced to fifteen days in jail; ten days for his failure to ensure the deceased worker had his fall arrest PPE engaged, and an additional five days for misleading the MOL.
Why jail time? The sentencing judge, Her Honour Justice Nelson, observed the frequency of accidents caused by the failure of employers and supervisors to ensure workers had their fall arrest PPE engaged. She concluded that fines had not been a successful deterrent and it was necessary to send the message that jail was a sanction that the courts will use for fall arrest offences. She added that if workers continue to fall off roofs in contravention of fall arrest regulations, supervisors can expect that jail sentences will be longer and may well become the norm.
One can disagree whether it was fair for the owner/supervisor in this case to be made an example for the roofing industry. But the large message that cannot be challenged is that reasonable care requires more than written policies and procedures, training and equipment. Without implementing adequate supervision to ensure safety is being observed by its employees, an employer is simply not meeting the standard of care required by the law. The employer is equally responsible for the safety of employees who follow the rules and those who do not.
A copy of the decision is available here.