In every Canadian jurisdiction, an individual can be imprisoned if convicted of an offence under health and safety legislation. However, it has been more common for the Court to impose a fine than to sentence an offender to jail. And yet, a recent Ontario case is one of a number of cases suggesting that the Court may be increasingly willing to imprison individuals who violate health and safety legislation.
What Happened in the Case of AB Clothier Roofing
Bradley Clothier operated a sole proprietorship roofing company. On August 17, 2015, Mr. Clothier and two of his workers were working on the roof of a two-storey home. There was no fall protection system in place, and one worker suffered injuries after he fell 18 feet from the roof. After the worker fell, Mr. Clothier told another worker to put lifelines and fall protection in place on the roof. He did this to try and deceive the Ministry of Labour inspector into believing that fall protection was in place as required by law. The deception was uncovered in the course of the investigation, and Mr. Clothier was charged with offences under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act.
On November 3, 2016, Mr. Clothier pleaded guilty to failing to ensure a worker was adequately protected by a method of fall protection, and attempting to hinder, obstruct, molest or interfere with an inspector. Mr. Clothier was fined $5,000 plus a 25% Victim Fine Surcharge for the first offence, and sentenced to three days in jail for the second offence.
What You Should Take Away
The AB Clothier Roofing case is one of a number of recent cases in which imprisonment has been imposed on individuals for health and safety offences.
For example, in Ontario, a contractor received a 30 day jail sentence after it was revealed at trial he instructed a worker to tell the Ministry of Labour he was wearing a harness when he fell. In another case, two directors of a corporation were sentenced to 25 days in jail for failing to take reasonable care to ensure the corporation complied with health and safety legislation after a worker fell from an order picker and died. In another case in British Columbia, a sole proprietor was sentenced to 60 days in jail for breaching a court order prohibiting him from asbestos abatement work until certain conditions were met to protect workers. These cases suggest an increasing willingness by courts to imprison individuals for health and safety violations.
With the possibility of regulatory or criminal charges and fines, and even possible jail time if convicted, the stakes involved in health and safety compliance for individual workplace parties have never been higher. It is crucial that workplace parties obtain legal advice immediately after a workplace accident or injury to mitigate the possible legal and reputational risks.