An Ontario construction company is being fined $200,000 on a criminal conviction after four of its workers died in a scaffolding accident in 2009.
Metron Construction is the first company in Ontario to be convicted of criminal negligence causing death under the Criminal Code.
On Dec. 24, 2009, a swing stage scaffold 13 storeys above ground at an apartment complex in Toronto broke, causing the four workers to fall to their death and one other to be critically injured.
The accident was the worst construction accident in more than 50 years in Toronto and led to amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act to increase protection for workers and reduce the chance of future accidents.
In June 2012, Metron pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal negligence causing death, leading up to the $200,000 fine. The prosecutor for the Ministry of the Attorney General had been asking for a $1-million fine for workplace safety violations.
The fine should send a message to companies that the court does not take workplace safety lightly, Ontario Justice Robert Bigelow said on July 13.
“Health and safety legislation exists to protect workers from serious injury or death in the workplace,” said Bigelow in the ruling, “and the overriding principle to be considered by the court is that of deterrence and any fine imposed must be substantial enough to warn others that the offence will not be tolerated.”
Metron will have to pay $100,000 within 30 days and the remaining amount within the following 12 months.
Metron president Joel Swartz also pleaded guilty to four charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. He has been fined $90,000. Prosecutors dropped charges of criminal negligence causing death against Swartz after his guilty plea because they believed there was no reasonable chance of conviction.
A victim surcharge totaling $52,500 has also been handed to Metron and Swartz, bringing the total fines to $342,500.
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), an umbrella organization representing 1,500 locals from 54 affiliated unions in the province, had been pushing for jail time as part of the sentencing.
The fines are a slap on the wrist and a “disgrace,” OFL president Sid Ryan said after the sentencing.
“No penalty can deliver sufficient justice for this tragedy, but the responsibility lies with the court to send the strongest possible message to negligent employers that losing workers lives isn’t simply the cost of doing business,” said Ryan said in a press release on July 12, prior to the ruling. “Handing the fines over to the survivors of the victims would help them cope with their significant loss.”
Safety measures like a fall-protection system were not in place when the accident took place, it was discovered during the investigation that took place after the accident. Metron also admitted to not maintaining adequate training records or ensuring the scaffold was properly maintained.
In 2004, Ottawa amended the Criminal Code to impose criminal liability and potential penalties for companies and their executives when firms are negligent in enforcing workplace safety laws that result in injuries or death. The changes were a result of the Westray coal mining disaster that killed 26 workers in 1992. The men were underground when a large amount of methane gas was released and ignited inside the mine.