Ontario construction company and its president fined after Christmas Eve deaths

Company and president hit with $342,000 in fines for criminal negligence after scaffolding accident killed four workers
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 08/08/2012

An Ontario company and its president must pay more than $300,000 in fines following the deaths of four workers who fell from a scaffold on a construction project.

On Dec. 24, 2009, five immigrant workers were repairing a balcony on a high rise building in Toronto, when the scaffold broke. The incident occurred when another worker tried to step onto the swing stage, causing it to break into two pieces. Five workers fell several storeys to the ground, killing four of them and seriously injuring the fifth. It was determined that there were too many workers on the scaffold and not enough fall protection provided for all of them. The company, Metron Construction, pleaded guilty of criminal negligence causing death — under the 2004 Bill C-45 amendments to the Criminal Code — and Metron’s president, Joel Swartz, pleaded guilty to four charges under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. A Metron senior manager and a supervisor were also charged, as was the company that supplied the scaffold.

The Crown sought a $1 million fine against Metron, but the court imposed $200,000, finding the company was responsible for the actions of the site supervisor who allowed the circumstances that led to the accident. The lower fine was because Metron had no history of safety violations, had not intentionally planned its violation before the accident, and had pleaded guilty to the charges. The court also found that a $1 million fine would have bankrupted Metron, which was going through financial difficulties.

The lower fine was also imposed on Metron because its president, Swartz, was fined individually. Swartz was fined $90,000 — the highest fine yet to an individual for health and safety violations — as a director and officer of Metron who was ultimately responsible for the company’s failure to ensure the workers were safe.

With the 25 per cent victim surcharge added on, the fines against Metron and Swartz totalled $342,500. With this amount being significantly greater than Metron’s net income in the last year it was profitable, the court found it would send “a clear message” to employers about the importance of employee safety.

The senior manager and supervisor are still facing charges and a possible criminal trial.

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