Court overturns technical interpretation of safety regulations. Lower court had found employer not guilty because truck not handling material at the time

An employer has been found guilty of a material handling charge even though the truck in question was not handling material at the time of the accident.

Sheehan’s Truck Centre was found guilty under section 56 of Ontario’s Industrial Regulations, which requires the use of a signaler when the operator of a vehicle or “similar material handling equipment” does not have a full view of the intended path of travel. Section 56 is under the heading “Material Handling” in the Regulation.

An employee of Sheehan’s had reversed an industrial truck with a trailer and drove over another employee who suffered serious pelvic injuries. At the time, Sheehan’s lot was being paved. The truck and trailer were empty.

The appeal judge decided that the truck did not have to be handling material at the time of the accident in order for the “material handling” section, including the requirement of a signaler, to apply. It was sufficient that the truck was intended to be used to handle materials. The trial judge had applied a “literal, technical interpretation” when he found Sheehan not guilty because the truck was not handling materials at the time.

The case is not over yet. The Ontario Court of Appeal has agreed to hear Sheehan’s appeal on the issue of the proper interpretation of section 56, finding that the section raises workplace safety issues that are of public interest.

Ministry of Labour v. Sheehan’s Truck Centre Inc. (Ontario Court of Justice): http://www.canlii.org/en/on/oncj/doc/2010/2010oncj713/2010oncj713.pdf , and http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onca/doc/2011/2011onca170/2011onca170.pdf (Ontario Court of Appeal)