A recent fine imposed under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act confirms that the poor choices, and even illegal behaviour, of employees does not absolve an employer from its responsibilities under Occupational Health and Safety legislation.

In April 2012, an employee of Brewers Retail Inc. was killed after drinking poisonous liquid from a liquor bottle.  In February 2013, Brewers Retail Inc. was fined $218,000 for failing to acquaint a worker with a hazard in the handling, storage or use of a liquid chemical agent.  The fine included a 25% victim surcharge.

The Beer Store in Brampton, Ontario once had a practice of allowing truck drivers to take empty liquor bottles and fill them with windshield washer fluid dispensed from a large vat.

Brewers Retail Inc. stopped this practice for safety reasons, but did not advise new employees of this past practice.

In April 2012, two employees were cleaning one of the Beer Stores’ trucks and discovered a 1.5 litre plastic vodka bottle in the cab of the trunk.  They shared a few drinks from the bottle during their shift.

Unfortunately, one of the employees took the bottle home and finished it.  That employee died of methanol poisoning.  The other employee was advised and underwent dialysis treatment to clear his system.

While Brewers Retail did not fight the charge and plead guilty under Occupational Health and Safety legislation, it did note that the employees, who were tasked with cleaning only the outside of the truck, had no reason to enter the cab, should not have engaged in drinking in the workplace, and certainly should not have stolen something from the truck they were cleaning.

The failure of Brewers Retail was in neglecting to advise new employees about the past, unsafe practice.  This omission merited a fine, despite the fact that the incident resulted from a series of poor choices and wrongdoing by the employees.

What does this mean for employers?

Employers will be held accountable under occupational health and safety legislation for incidents in the workplace if there was any action the employer could have taken to prevent the incident.  The fact that employee behaviour contributes to an incident is not sufficient to allow an employer to avoid a fine.  As is always the case, evaluate your workplace for bad practices that can have safety consequences and eliminate them.  You can read the Ontario government’s press release on this case here.