Yesterday, the Ontario Court of Appeal tripled the fine awarded against a construction company that failed to ensure the safety of its workers: R v Metron Construction.
In the late afternoon of December 24, 2009, five workers who were restoring the concrete balconies of a high rise in Toronto fell from a fourteenth floor swing stage platform. Four of the five workers died, the fifth worker who survived suffered serious permanent injuries. The sixth worker – the only one who was properly attached to a safety line – did not fall and survived uninjured.
Details of the original judgment are set out in the July 2012 trial judgment of R v Metron Construction Corporation.
Criminal Conviction – Trial Judge
The company was the first in Ontario to be charged and convicted under the new Criminal Code provisions that make it a criminal offence to direct a worker to perform a task without taking reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that worker. See sections 217.1, 219 and 22.1(b) of the Criminal Code for the specific provisions upon which the crown relied.
The trial judge fined the company $200,000 plus the Victim Fine Surcharge of 15% or $30,000, which was over 3 times the net earnings of the business in its last profitable year. The trial judge concluded that the penalty was “the appropriate disposition in this case and should send a clear message to all businesses of the overwhelming importance of ensuring the safety of workers whom they employ.”
Court of Appeal Triples the Fine
Yesterday, the Court of Appeal tripled the penalty, fining the company $750,000. The Crown had sought a fine of $1 million, arguing that the court should not restrict itself to the range of penalties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The Court agreed with the merits of that argument:
 Section 718.1 of the Code states that “a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender”. A range of sentences established under the OHSA regulatory regime does not reflect the gravity of the offence of criminal negligence causing death. The OHSA cases that attracted fines of between $115,000 and $450,000 and that were relied upon by the sentencing judge are of limited assistance.
The Court also concluded that the penalty for such a serious offence with such a tragic consequence must be increased to ensure deterrence:
 A sentence consisting of a fine of $200,000 fails to convey the need to deliver a message on the importance of worker safety. Indeed, some might treat such a fine as simply a cost of doing business. Workers employed by a corporation are entitled to expect higher standards of conduct than that exhibited by the respondent. Denunciation and deterrence should have received greater emphasis. They did not. The sentence was demonstrably unfit.
The Court of Appeal has sent a very clear message to employers: worker safety is paramount, and companies will pay dearly under the Criminal Code if found liable for worker injury or death.