Rejecting a prosecutor’s plea to send a million-dollar message, a Canadian judge has fined an Ontario construction company $200,000 for the deaths of four immigrant workers who plunged 13 stories in a high-rise scaffold collapse on Christmas Eve 2009.
The fine against Metron Construction Corp. was the highest ever imposed in Canada for criminal negligence arising from a workplace accident. An additional $90,000 penalty imposed on Metron’s president for four violations of Canada’s Occupational Safety and Health Act was also the largest fine ever imposed under that law.
|The swing stage was equipped with only two lifelines for six men, the investigation found.|
Ontario Court Justice Robert Bigelow, who imposed sentence July 13, called the deaths “horribly tragic consequences” that resulted from “serious breaches” of health and safety regulations.
Nevertheless, Bigelow rejected prosecutors’ request for a $1 million fine, saying it would bankrupt the company.
6 Workers, 1 Lifeline
The scaffold floor broke near the middle after six men boarded it on the way down at the end of the work day. The men, ranging in age from 25 to 40, were from Latvia, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. They had been performing repairs on the concrete balconies of a Toronto high rise.
One worker had tied off to a lifeline and was not injured. Four were killed, and the sixth suffered serious injuries in the fall.
Subsequent investigation by the Ministry of Labour found that the swingstage had been overloaded, defective and hazardous. The five men who fell had not been tied off or trained in fall protection, investigators found.
The site supervisor—who also died in the accident—contributed to Metron’s criminal liability by allowing six men to work on the swing stage even though he knew, or should have known, that it was unsafe to do so, authorities said. The swing stage had only two lifelines available.
The supervisor also allowed workers under the influence of alcohol to work on the project, reports said.
Metron was criminally charged in the case in 2010 and pleaded guilty in June 2012.
It was the second corporate conviction in Ontario under Canada’s Criminal Code as amended in 2004 by Bill C-45, which imposed criminal liability on organizations for negligence.
In addition to the fine against the company, Bigelow fined Metron owner Joel Swartz $90,000 plus a $22,500 victim surcharge fine for the OSH convictions. In all, Bigelow imposed fines and surcharges totaling $342,550 against Metron and Swartz. The total was three times the company’s net earnings in its last profitable year.
Prosecutors had sought a fine of $1 million, while Metron had proposed $100,000.
Bigelow said the total would send a clear message about safety to all businesses without bankrupting Metron. He also noted, as mitigating factors, that:
• The safety offenses had not been planned;
• The company had no regulatory record of similar lapses;
• The company president had been fined; and
• Metron had not benefited from the accident in any way.
Representatives of organized labor, however, called the penalties inadequate.
Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), declared the sentence “disgraceful.”
“It says that a worker’s life is worth no more than $50,000, and many bad bosses across the province will simply chalk it up as the cost of doing business,” he said.
The OFL and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada, the country’s largest private-sector union, had both called for jail time in addition to financial penalties.
Said Ryan: “I believe employers in this province, in some cases, have been getting away with murder in the sense of killing workers every single day.”