Site owner, not contractor, liable for workplace injury, court says

Ensuring power was turned off was beyond contractor's qualifications

The owner of a construction site is responsible for a workplace injury, not the contractor, according to the Ontario Court of Justice.

In July 2003, Premier Recycling Limited, a scrap metal disposal company, was contracted to remove metal from a power plant owned by Abitibi Consolidated, a paper and wood products company, in Iroquois Falls, Ont.

Dwayne Duguay, a worker with Premier Recycling, was seriously injured on July 7, 2003, when he cut an electrical panel with a live wire. The Ministry of Labour issued a stop work order and Premier Recycling was charged under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which stipulates the employer must take every precaution to ensure the safety of its workers and, specifically, the power supply to electrical installations must be disconnected before any work is done on live equipment.

The court found Premier Recycling was not liable for the incident, as there were no warning labels on Abitibi’s equipment to indicate any live or “de-engergized” wires in the electrical panel. Since Abitibi was the owner of the power plant and had contracted Premier Recycling, it could also be considered the employer. Therefore, Abitibi was responsible for ensuring the electrical power was turned off and any necessary warnings were provided.

The court also found Premier Recycling had shown diligence by providing proper training for its workers including a training manual, safety orientations on every worksite and putting workers through a hazardous materials information program.

The court also found Premier Recycling wasn’t otherwise qualified to disconnect the power supply. The company had the understanding no work would begin until the power supply had been disconnected by Abitibi.

“Abitibi Consolidated was the owner of the power plant, as well as contractor and employer to the sub-contractors,” the court said. “The owner of the construction project — Abitibi Consolidated — failed to develop a fail-safe system to ensure the safety of all workers, including those of the contractor and sub-contractors.” See R. v. Premier Recycling Limited, 2006 CarswellOnt 9027 (Ont. C.J.).

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