When a worker is injured in an incident caused by unsafe conditions in the workplace, it isn’t just the employer who can be liable for the health and safety violations. Two recent Ontario court decisions show employees have a duty to keep things safe at work and follow government requirements just as employers do.
On Aug. 22, 2008, five workers for Paris Holdings and Sergerie Mechanical of Cornwall, Ont., were removing corrugated metal decking and insulation from a storage building roof at a paper mill that was being demolished. The workers were wearing safety harnesses but they weren’t connected to safety lines securely attached to anchor points. One of the workers stepped to a spot where the decking had already been removed and fell 8.5 metres to the ground, resulting in a serious injury.
Three days later, Ontario Ministry of Labour inspectors returned to the demolition site and discovered four secured safety ropes had been added. However, the ministry had ordered the accident scene left untouched for the investigation.
Paris Holdings and Sergerie Mechanical both pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the workers were adequately protected from falling and were fined $60,000 and $50,000 respectively by the Ontario Court of Justice. A supervisor for Sergerie Mechanical was convicted of interfering with and disturbing the scene of a critical injury without the permission of an inspector. He was fined $6,000.
Res 2000 Structures, a construction company based in Cookstown, Ont., was convicted of four violations of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act after a March 26, 2008, injury to a worker at the Hilton Niagara in Niagara Falls, Ont.
A steel panel on the building was being moved with a crane while a worker stood on a scaffold to guide it. The crane operator lifted the panel higher than expected and it passed over the heads of other workers and then hit the worker on the scaffold, knocking him off. He fell four meetings into an open stairwell and suffered serious injuries.
Res 2000 was convicted of failing to ensure the scaffold had a guardrail, failing to operate a crane safely, failing to use enough guide ropes or lines to control the crane’s load and failing to take every precaution reasonable to protect the injured worker. The company was fined $85,000 by the Provincial Offences Court.
However, the crane operator was also held liable for the incident. The operator was convicted of similar charges of not operating a crane safely and failing to use more guide ropes to secure the crane’s load, as well as operating equipment in a manner that endangered another worker. The operator was fined $5,000.
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