Unguarded employee rolled out of plant

Machinist fired for not locking down machine
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 06/15/2011

This instalment of You Make the Call features a machine operator who was fired for not following safety procedures.

Jeff Jocque was a utility operator for Sandvik Materials Technology, a metal tubing manufacturer in Arnprior, Ont. By 2009, Sandvik was trying to improve safety in its plant after two accidents — one in 2000 and one in 2008 — where workers lost fingers after being caught in machines. Sandvik was convicted of health and safety violations each time and was fined $68,000 and $115,000, for the respective accidents.

Sandvik installed electronic guards and other safety features on its machines and advised employees of the safety and operational requirements. Employees could access computer terminals that had updated procedures and instructions and Jocque acknowledged he had read the information for the Sutton Straightener, a machine he worked on that straightened coils of tubing and cut them into 20-foot lengths.

On Feb. 2, 2010, the shift manager went over to Jocque’s machine midway through his shift and saw the machine was being operated without a guard over the roller area, where the tube is straightened. In addition, Jocque was cleaning off the rolls with an emery cloth in his hand.

The manager asked Jocque if he was aware of the proper procedure to lock out the machine when cleaning it and using the guard, which Jocque acknowledged he did. Jocque said he was having problems with quality of the tubing he needed to clean the rolls frequently.

Jocque worked his next two shifts without any problems and on Feb. 5 he met with management, who suspended him pending an investigation. Jocque acknowledged his actions were wrong and that he should have followed proper safety procedures but felt he wasn’t in danger as the guard was meant to prevent someone from falling into the rolls, which wasn’t a risk at the time. However, Sandvik disagreed that was the main reason for the guard.

Jocque was dismissed for contravening Sandvik’s policies and Ontario Health and Safety Act regulations because he “deliberately and knowingly placed yourself directly in the way of potentially catastrophic harm.” Sandvik also noted he had failed to report missing bolts used to secure the guard, which increased potential harm to others.

The union grieved the dismissal, arguing Jocque didn’t receive any warnings and the precedent for such an offence was a suspension. It pointed to previous incidents where employees received a written warning for not locking out a machine and a suspension for not addressing a safety violation.

You Make the Call

Was dismissal an appropriate level of discipline for the safety violation?
Was a lesser form of discipline more appropriate?

IF YOU SAID dismissal was appropriate, you’re right. The arbitrator found Sandvik was trying to take its duties to a higher standard of compliance than it had previously had, which had resulted in serious workplace injuries and health and safety fines. The company was facing difficulty in that effort by a lack of commitment by its own employees, said the arbitrator, which was epitomized by Jocque’s attitude.

The arbitrator found Jocque knew and understood the proper and safe procedure to clean the rolls on the straightener as well as the previous accidents that had happened. Though it may have been tedious to lock out the machine every time he needed to clean the rolls, his failure to do so “was a serious and flagrant breach of the known safety procedures and was done without regard to the personal injury consequences.”

The arbitrator also found Sandvik’s need to reset its workforce’s attitude towards safety and deter them from infractions such as Jocque was a factor. His unwillingness to fully accept the danger of his actions made it unlikely he could be reinstated with confidence that he wouldn’t do the same thing again. The arbitrator ruled dismissal was justified for Jocque’s failure to follow safety procedures. See Sandvik Materials Technology Canada v. CAW-Canada, Local 2228, 2010 CarswellOnt 10271 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).