Criminal negligence charges laid in scaffolding deaths

Toronto construction company, three people charged under federal corporate killing law

A tragic accident in which four construction workers fell to their deaths and a fifth was seriously injured has resulted in criminal charges under the federal government’s corporate killing law.

Toronto-based Metron Construction Corporation, along with three individuals related to the company, have each been charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm and four counts of criminal negligence causing death. This is part of a growing trend of police investigation and criminal charges relating to workplace injury and death arising from the Bill C-45 amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada.

The charges arise from the deaths of four migrant workers and the critical injury of another following the collapse of a swing stage scaffold on the 13th floor of a Toronto apartment building on Dec. 24, 2009. The workplace tragedy received national media attention and led the Ontario government to appoint former deputy minister of labour and University of Toronto professor Tony Dean to conduct an inquiry into the effectiveness of workplace safety prevention initiatives after this incident.

5 men fell 13 storeys after scaffold broke

A crew of six men were working on repairing the balcony at 2757 Kipling Avenue when the scaffold broke. The incident occurred when another worker tried to step onto the swing stage, causing it to break into two pieces dropping five workers to the ground, killing four of them and seriously injuring the fifth. One worker escaped unharmed.

In August, 61 Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) charges were laid against various parties as a result of the accident. Thirty charges were laid against Metron Construction Corporation, with an additional 16 against a Metron senior manager and eight against a supervisor. In addition, the company that supplied the work platform, Swing ‘N’ Scaff, was also charged with four OHSA violations and its director was charged on three counts individually.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has never laid any OHSA charges against Metron in its 23 years of operation. However, the ministry had previously issued eight orders, including some dealing with swing stages, to Metron at the job site in question in the two months leading up to the deadly incident.

These charges mark the fifth time a corporation or an individual has been charged with a contravention of the Bill C-45 amendments since they were passed by the federal government in 2004. However, none have yet gone to trial.

Mine disaster led to corporate killing law

Bill C-45 was the legislative reaction of the federal government to the May 2002 Westray mine disaster, where 26 miners died when an explosion and fire ripped through a coal mine in Nova Scotia. Criminal charges in that case were thrown out at trial due to prosecutional misconduct.

The first court appearance in relation to these latest charges was Oct. 13.

Norm Keith is a partner with Gowlings in Toronto and a leader of the firm’s National Occupational Health and Safety Group. He can be contacted at (416) 862-5699 or norm. keith@gowlings.com.

Anna Abbott is an associate with Gowlings in Toronto and a member of the firm’s Occupational Health and Safety and Employment and Labour National Groups. She can be contacted at (416) 369-7284 or anna.abbott@gowlings.com.

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