A Quebec employer is the first in the country to be convicted for criminal charges in a workplace death.
Transpavé, a manufacturer of concrete blocks in Saint-Eustache, Que., pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the death of 23-year-old Steve L'Ecuyer in October 2005. L'Ecuyer was crushed by a machine that stacks concrete blocks, which the workers' compensation board had previously instructed the company to repair, after pallets with concrete had backed-up on the conveyer belt.
The company's own security cameras captured the entire incident on tape, which was turned over to the local police.
The machine had a curtain guard which should have cut power to the machine when the worker approached it, but investigators determined this safety system was disabled at the time and had been for nearly two years. It was also discovered the employee hadn’t been told of the danger and management was aware of the situation but did nothing about it.
Transpavé was charged with criminal negligence causing death and pleaded guilty on Dec. 7, 2007. The company faces sentencing on Feb. 26.
The conviction of Transpavé is the first criminal conviction of a corporation since the amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada brought in by Bill C-45 in March 2004.
“We have seen regulatory OH&S investigators repeatedly encourage the police and criminal crown attorneys to prosecute organizations for criminal negligence following tragic workplace accidents, without success,” law firm Heenan Blaikie said in a release following the court decision. “This conviction may signal an opening of the gates to more criminal charges, along with regulatory OH&S charges.”
The amendments, known as the corporate killing law, stipulate organizations must take all reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to persons, including workers, contractors and the general public.
In addition to being charged with contravention of health and safety regulations, a corporation, its supervisors or other representatives can now be charged with criminal negligence by government enforcers at the scene of a workplace accident.
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