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Maintaining the definition of workplace for OHS purposes

Ontario court ruling could have meant that ‘virtually every place in the province’ was a workplace

By Todd Humber

In a win for common sense, the Ontario Court of Appeal has overturned a ruling it called “absurd” that said a resort was required to report the drowning death of a guest as a workplace accident.

On Christmas Eve 2007, a guest drowned in an unsupervised pool at Blue Mountain Ski Resort in Collingwood, Ont. It was a tragedy, but it wasn’t a workplace accident — or so the resort thought.

It didn’t report the death to Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, since an employee was not injured or killed in the incident.

But the Ministry of Labour, the Ontario Labour Relations Board and the Ontario Divisional Court thought differently.

As Canadian HR Reporter reported in 2011, the divisional court said: “Workers and guests are vulnerable to the same hazards. The purposes and intents of the legislation would be undermined if a physical hazard with potential to harm workers and non-workers alike was not subject to reporting oversight.”

At the time, Matt Blajer, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour, called it “a reasonable expectation and should not be burdensome for employers.”

There’s some logic to that line of thinking, but it simply goes too far in defining the workplace.

As the Ontario Court of Appeal said in its ruling: “It would make virtually every place in the province of Ontario — commercial, industrial, private or domestic — a ‘workplace,’ because a worker may, at some time, be at that place. This leads to the absurd conclusion that every death or critical injury to anyone, anywhere, whatever the cause, must be reported.”

It went on to say: “Such an interpretation goes well beyond the proper reach of the (Occupational Health and Safety Act) and reviewing role of the Ministry reasonably necessary to advance the admittedly important objective of protecting the health and safety of workers in the workplace. It is therefore unreasonable and cannot stand.”

The Ontario Court of Appeal’s reversal of the lower court’s ruling is not surprising. What is surprising is that the resort had to fight for this long to get to this result.

But employers in Ontario — and across the country, for that matter — should be glad Blue Mountain did. That’s not a precedent organizations want to see.

The drowning of one of the resort’s guests was a serious incident, and one it shouldn’t take lightly. It should investigate what it can do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

But it was not a workplace accident.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at or visit for more information.

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Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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