Worker suspended after putting tape on warning light to make it look like goal light

Even if a supervisor was aware a worker had disabled a safety mechanism, it wouldn’t make the worker any less responsible, says arbitrator

The Ontario Arbitration Board has ruled that even if a supervisor was aware a worker had disabled a safety mechanism, it wouldn’t make the worker any less responsible.

Aaron Tait was an assistant calendar operator for Scapa Tapes. In April 2004, during the hockey playoffs, he put blue tape over a warning strobe light that flashes whenever the calendar machine is in operation to make it look like a goal light.

The machine cuts and spools tape and poses a danger to anyone in the immediate vicinity. In addition to the strobe light, a siren goes off that warns workers a cutting operation is about to start.

The company said Tait violated Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act by knowingly making a safety device ineffective. It said a firm response was called for and it had taken Tait’s clean disciplinary record into account and the fact he was not motivated by malice or an intent to injure in suspending him for one day.

Tait’s union called it a prank, a characterization the company agreed with, but conceded it was irresponsible. But it said the suspension was too severe since Tait’s actions had been condoned by Stewart Acres, his supervisor.

The union said if Acres was on the floor during the shift in question then he must have known the light was taped over. In remaining silent he gave Tait the impression it was acceptable.

Had Tait been warned during the shift he would have untaped the light, the union said.

It also pointed out that Tait’s actions were not totally reckless – the siren still worked and the warning light had only been made “somewhat ineffective.” It asked that Tait be compensated for the day’s lost wages and the item be removed from his disciplinary record.

Acres testified that during his shift he never saw or was made aware the light was taped over.

The board believed Acres, but noted that as far as Tait’s penalty was concerned it wouldn’t matter if Acres had known what Tait had done. Knowing and not doing anything about it would have made him complicit with Tait, but it wouldn’t have reduced Tait’s responsibility. Willful interference with safety equipment is a serious offence, the board said, and it accepted the company had already taken mitigating factors into account. The one-day suspension was thus upheld.

For more information see:

Scapa Tapes North America, Renfrew v. U.S.W., 2005 CarswellOnt 6349 (Ont. Arb. Bd.)

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