Employer faces criminal charges in worker's death

Second time charges laid in Ontario under Bill C-45 since it came into effect
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 03/02/2010

After a 10-month investigation, police have laid criminal charges in relation to the death of a city worker who was fatally injured on the job in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Police have charged Millennium Crane rentals, a crane owner, David Brian Selvers, and crane operator, Anthony Vanderloo, with criminal negligence causing death after James Vecchio was fatally injured when a crane collapsed into the three-metre deep excavated hole where he was working.

The first court appearance is scheduled for March 22.

This is the second time criminal charges have been laid in relation to a worker's death since amendments, known as Bill C-45 or the corporate killing law, were made to the criminal negligence provisions of the Criminal Code in 2004. It is the first time an Ontario company is facing criminal negligence causing death.

On April 16, 2009, the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s public works department was performing sewer work in a three-metre deep excavation at the city landfill.

The city had contracted with Millennium Crane Rentals to provide a crane and crane operator. While all the facts haven't been publicly released, it appears the crane fell into the excavation while it was being repositioned.

Two city employees were working in the excavation at the time. Vecchio was pinned across the stomach and pelvis by the crane. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he later died of his injuries.

The second employee was not hurt. The Ontario Ministry of Labour and the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service investigated the accident.

The ministry laid five charges under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) against Millennium Crane, including charges for failing to ensure the crane operator was properly licensed, failing to ensure the crane was maintained in a condition that did not endanger a worker, and failing to ensure that the crane was not defective and/or hazardous. The crane operator was also charged for allegedly operating the crane in a manner that endangered himself and other workers.

The maximum fine of each of the OHSA charges laid against Millennium Crane is $500,000, while the crane operator could face a fine of up to $25,000. The maximum sentence under Bill C-45 is life in prison.

Under the amendments to the criminal code, prosecutors need to prove extraordinarily reckless behaviour resulted in serious injury or death and the most senior management in the company failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent this, either through systems or action, according to law firm Heenan Blaikie.

There have been two past Bill C-45 criminal prosecutions. In 2006, Transpavé, a paving-stone manufacturer in Saint-Eustache, Que., was charged with criminal negligence causing death after an employee was fatally crushed on the job. The company pleaded guilty and was fined $100,000 in March 2008.

In 2004, Domenico Fantini, a supervisor at small Ontario construction company Vista Construction, was charged after a trench collapsed, fatally injuring a worker. The charges were dropped after Fantini pleaded guilty to three charges under the OHSA and was fined $50,000.

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