Safety violation at paper mill results in dismissal

Misconduct not so serious as to irreparably damage the employment relationship: Arbitrator

A lockout violation led to Doug Mosiuk’s dismissal on June 14, 2014.

Mosiuk — a journeyman millwright — maintained and repaired a wide variety of plant equipment for the Alberta-based lumber mill Weyerhaeuser Company. Before being fired, Mosiuk was suspended for four days for smoking in a prohibited area. Because of the potential consequences of a fire at a lumber mill, the offence was considered
incredibly serious.

Because of the potentially dangerous work environment, the employer implemented programs to promote plant safety and continuously train employees in safe work practices.

One of the employer’s safe work practices was a lockout policy which required all power sources be locked out before an employee entered a restricted area. Millwrights carried padlocks that were used to lock out power sources and each piece of equipment had one or more clearly labelled power boxes next to it.

When several power boxes were located in an immediate area, a long bar could be used to lock them out simultaneously by connecting the on/off levers.

On June 14, 2014, Mosiuk entered a restricted area and crossed over live chains without properly locking out all power sources after being called to the area to look into a problem that had shut down the production line.

Mosiuk testified he approached the production line from the “helper” side, which was unusual as he usually performed maintenance and repairs from the “operator” side of the production line. Mosiuk locked out the power boxes on the helper side before crossing over the line to access the operator side.

When he arrived at the operator side, Mosiuk saw that one of the power boxes on that side of the production line was not locked out.

Mosiuk’s supervisor witnessed the incident, removed Mosiuk from the area and addressed the issue with a manager. Mosiuk was asked to leave the site while the incident was reviewed.

Following a consultation, the employer decided to dismiss Mosiuk.

Mosiuk admitted to the lockout violation, the employer argued, and there were multiple witnesses. Mosiuk knew what was required of him by the safety policies but failed to do it. Safety is taken seriously on the work site, the employer argued, and Mosiuk’s misconduct warranted serious discipline.

Furthermore, the employer said, the lockout violation was a culminating incident as Mosiuk had prior disciplinary offences on his record at the time, including the safety violation concerning smoking.

The union, however, argued Mosiuk didn’t intentionally violate the lockout rules. He thought he had properly locked out, and when he discovered he had violated the lockout policy, he admitted his mistake and apologized.

The union further argued the employer failed to take into consideration any mitigating circumstances, including Mosiuk’s 27 years of service. Furthermore, the union argued Mosiuk was disciplined much more harshly than other employees who committed lockout violations. Mosiuk’s discipline, the union said, was not consistent with the employer’s past practices.

Based on the evidence, arbitrator W.D. McFetridge accepted Mosiuk’s testimony that he made a mistake and did not deliberately ignore the employer’s lockout policy.

“The grievor made a mistake but his misconduct was not so serious as to irreparably damage the employment relationship or show that he could not be trusted to conduct himself safely in the future,” McFetridge said.

While failing to follow the employer’s lockout policy was a serious offence, McFetridge said, it did not automatically justify a penalty of discharge. As a result, McFetridge ordered an eight-day suspension be substituted for Mosiuk’s termination.
He ordered Mosiuk be reinstated without loss of seniority and compensated for loss of pay and benefits.

Reference: Weyerhaeuser Company and the United Steelworkers Local 1-207. W.D. McFetridge — arbitrator. Thomas Duke for the employer, Dave Mercer for the union. March 9, 2016.

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