An Alberta employer has been sentenced to a fine of $80,000 plus the 15% victim fine surcharge following a workplace incident which occurred in 2011 at its distribution center.
A worker was injured while bending down under a conveyor to plug in a portable weigh scale. As she bent down, she felt herself being propelled violently backward. A subsequent investigation determined that her hair had become entangled in the drive shaft under the conveyor. She sustained numerous injuries, losing part of her thumb and part of her hair.
At trial, the employer was convicted of two offences under the occupational health and safety legislation, the court finding that the employer had failed to establish the defence of due diligence. In its sentencing decision, the court considered the employer’s safety policies and its corporate commitment towards safety to be mitigating factors. However, the court noted that the employer had been convicted for failing to use all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of its workers who worked near the conveyor. Company officials had failed to recognize, over a four year period, that a large portion of the conveyor was unguarded. The court was also critical of the training given to workers about the dangers of conveyors. Thus, while the employer was concerned about safety, the court found that it had not been vigilant enough.
The court also considered the impact of the incident on the worker as increasing the gravity of the offence. However, the lack of a guilty plea was not treated as an aggravating circumstance. The court also inferred that the employer was remorseful based on the steps it had taken following the incident, and considered that a mitigating circumstance.
The court reviewed the sentencing jurisprudence but considered this case to be unique in relation to the fact that the employer’s oversight took place over four years and caused considerable pain and disfiguring injuries. Thus, a fine of $80,000 was considered appropriate.
This case serves as yet another example of the difficulty of successfully establishing a due diligence defence. It is also a reminder to employers to ensure they perform appropriate and thorough safety inspections and consider all aspects of the workplace that could potentially pose a danger to workers. This decision also demonstrates that while sentencing precedents are useful, the court is not bound by them and must consider all of the circumstances of the case in determining an appropriate sentence.