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Jan 29, 2013

Ontario company acquitted of charges after worker killed by broken winch

Circumstances that caused failure of winch frame while installing concrete piping weren’t likely or foreseeable: Court
    
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An Ontario employer is not responsible for an accident caused by unlikely conditions, the Ontario Court of Justice has ruled.

On Feb. 21, 2006, construction workers were laying concrete piping at a pumping station in Ottawa. Workers for Thomas G. Fuller and Sons — a contractor on the site — were using a makeshift winch system to move pipes into place when a piece of pipe snapped. The tension in the winch broke and the cables snapped back, pivoting its wooden brace. The brace hit a worker, who sustained fatal head injuries.

A health and safety investigation ensued and Fuller and Sons was charged with failing, as a constructor, to ensure every part of the project — in this case the winch and its frame — was designed and constructed to support or resist all loads and forces to which it is likely to be subjected, contrary to regulations under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. The company initially faced other charges as well, but these were dropped.

The court found the pipes were designed so pieces would fit into place simply by proper alignment, with little force needed. However, in the case of the Ottawa pumping station, the particular piece the workers were installing was irregularly shaped, making alignment more difficult and requiring more force than usual. The winch and brace were designed to align pieces of pipe, not force them into place — which the installation manual didn’t anticipate. When the piece of pipe in question didn’t align properly and resisted the workers’ efforts, the extra force necessary wasn’t expected, nor was it covered in the manual, said the court.

“(The regulation) does not require every part of the project to be designed and constructed to support and resist all loads and forces to which it ultimately proves to be subjected to; it requires that every part of the project be constructed to support or resist the loads it is likely to be subjected to,” said the court.

The court found although the winch wasn’t able to withstand the force of the misaligned piping, it was designed and evaluated to install aligned piping. The misalignment wasn’t expected and was an unforeseen circumstance for which Fuller and Sons couldn’t prepare, said the court.

The court dismissed the charges against Fuller and Sons.

For more information see:

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Thomas G. Fuller and Sons Ltd., 2012 CarswellOnt 14853 (Ont. C.J.).
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