On June 4th, 2012, a record fine was handed down to Perera Development Corporation and Perera Shawnee Ltd in Calgary. This fine was the result of a fatality that occurred in February of 2008. The company was fined a total of $2,472,500 on 12 charges under the Alberta OHS Code. Mr. Perera, owner of both of the subsidiary businesses, could still faces 10 additional charges personally; these matters are still before the court. The incident leading up to these charges involved the collapse of an excavation wall because proper shoring procedures were not implemented. A dump truck driver was buried and killed almost instantly when the wall gave way and crushed the cab of his truck.
The Crown Prosecutor on the case, Allison McGill, did not believe the company took reasonable steps in terms of evidentiary due diligence. She further stated that employees and contract workers on-site had reported the hazardous wall to site management in the week prior to the incident, however, measures were not taken to shore the wall. As a result of the evidence in this case, the judge charged that hefty fines would set the standard for future cases to deter industry from making the same mistakes.
In a similar case, on June 5th in Saskatchewan, the maximum penalty of $300,000 plus a $120,000 victim surcharge was invoked for a fatality at a potash surface mine. In May of 2010, a long term worker at Agrium Inc’s Vanscoy site was struck in the head and instantly killed by a device that fell from a load being lifted by an overhead crane. The Crown Prosecutor, Tamara Harrison, said the maximum fine was pursued because the company had a similar incident in 2006 when a rock fell and injured a worker. The findings of a provincial report, completed after the incident, determined that the rigging procedures did not comply with provincial regulations.
The very harsh reality of these incidents is that they were anticipated and could have easily been prevented through compliance with legislated standards and better processes. Clearly, the message continues to support the conditions for due diligence; the continued practice of taking reasonable steps to ensuring the health and safety of employees. Here is a reminder for employers of the criteria for due diligence:
Employers must develop all OHS policies and procedures (OHS program) in place in accordance with their work processes
Employers/managers must drive the OHS program from the top down to endorse and reinforce its importance
Employers must identify, assess and control all workplace hazards associated with work processes/tasks
Employers must review, audit and amend OHS policies and procedures regularly to keep up with current legislation and to drive continuous improvement standards
Employers must provide training to employees so they understand and conduct the work processes in conjunction with the OHS policies and procedures
Employers must monitor the workplace to ensure that employees are complying with OHS policies and procedures
Employers must provide a reporting process for hazards and incidents and should encourage employees to report all issues no matter how small
OHS fines remind us of the real implications and consequences for a company that does not proactively commit to the health and safety of its employees. However, the fines are just the tip of the iceberg; there are many concurrent issues beyond the actual penalty associated with a serious injury or fatality that are not easily resolved. There are residual costs for equipment repair and or replacement, training, bereavement, counseling and OHS program development. There is also the devastating and prolonged impact of loss because a family member or co-worker is no longer present; which no amount of money can replace.
This story does have a positive, yet proverbial ending. By applying legislated standards to the workplace and generating practical improvements, workplace fatalities and serious incidents can be averted. Prevention is a large part of the cure!
Please see the following articles for more information on the above cases. http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/calgary/Huge+fine+Perera+Development+after+unsafe+conditions/6727469/story.html
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