This past April, an Ontario business and employer, pled guilty in a workplace fatality lawsuit involving one of their own employees. In July of 2021, the company had been contracted to perform a demolition of an old building in Chatham, Ontario. An employee was working on a platform that had cavities in it, was working with unguarded openings surrounding him on three sides and was working approximately 7.6 meters above the ground, untethered. Because the worker was not protected by any method of fall arrest protection, they fell and suffered fatal injuries just doing what their day to day job asked of them. The business was found liable for $70,000 and has to pay a 25% victim fine surcharge, as required by the Provincial Offences Act. This gets credited to a special provincial government fund to assist victims of crime. The courts found the employer failed to honor the duty of care of their employee and violated pertinent employment tort legislation while also violating the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.
In 2017, CBC covered an article that claims only a handful of people have been jailed across Canada for violating workplace safety laws in connection with a death of a worker and that the median fine at that time covered around only $98,000; regardless, this does not bring back a lost family member who has lost their life while performing the scope of their employment. “The fines need to be greater, they need to be a significant deterrent, but we also need to pursue these cases through the criminal justice system,” said Irene Lanzinger, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour. “We have long said that if you kill a worker, you should go to jail.”
Patrick Desjardins, 17, was a Walmart employee in Grand Falls, N.B. who was using a buffer purchased at a garage sale in 2011 to clean the floor at work. While he was doing his job cleaning, he was electrocuted. The company pled guilty to workplace health and safety violations in a New Brunswick Provincial Court for failing to ensure the polisher was inspected, failure to ensure the equipment was suitable and well-maintained and failure to take reasonable precautions to ensure the health and safety of its employee. It was fined $120,000.
“Walmart can earn $120,000 in 15 seconds,” said Fabien Desjardins, Patrick’s father. It’s “not enough, but what is enough? It’s trying to put a price tag on my son, and you can’t do it. As far as I’m concerned, if these workplaces get caught … those fines should be increased, big time.”
While the government and judicial system are here to help workers ensure they are employed in safe and health work environments, it is ultimately the responsibility of the employer to ensure the employees they compensate to make money for the business, is working in a manner that ensures they return home at the end of the day in the same manner they left in.
11 am on April 28 is designated here in Canada as the National Day of Mourning for an opportunity to remember and honor the lives of those who are lost or injured due to a workplace tragedy. It is also a day for businesses to collectively renew their commitment to improve the health and safety of their workplaces, mitigating any future injuries, illnesses, and deaths. The Parliament of Canada passed the Workers Mourning Day Act, in 1991, 8 years after the day of remembrance was launched by the Canadian Labour Congress. It has spread into more than 100 countries around the world and is recognized as Worker’s Memorial Day and as International Workers Memorial Day by the International Labour Organization and the International Trade Union Confederation.
In 2021, there were 1,081 workplace fatalities in Canada, according to the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada. 1,009 were men, 72 were female and there were 18 deaths between the ages of 15-24. In addition to the fatalities, there were 277, 217 accepted claims for lost time due to a work-related injury or disease, a large increase from the year before. So far in 2023, WSIB Ontario states there are already over 78,000 registered claims in the first quarter. This can be broken down further into claims related to mental stress (478), occupational diseases (6652), traumatic fatalities (18) and COVID claims (1995).
Between 2022 and 2023 the leading injuries reported to WSIB were:
-24% experienced exposure to caustic, noxious, or allergenic substances event.
– 32% experienced sprains and strains on the job.
– 23% experienced infectious and parasitic agents as a source of injury.
The total benefit payments this year, to date, is $786.1 million dollars of loss earnings, health care, survivor benefits, future economic loss, non-economic loss, etc. These are the negative statistics and Ontario workplaces can do better.
Let’s now look at the positive statistics and how far workplace health and safety has come.
WSIB Ontario has created a health and safety index that combines multiple performance indicators of health and safety into a single, evidence-based measure that reflects how safe Ontario’s workplaces are, per industry, and if they are getting safer. This measure, or score, raises awareness and helps system partners focus their health and safety efforts and resources. It looks at four components:
- Prevention: what is done to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses, like avoiding unnecessary risks and following health and safety rules.
- Empowerment and workplace culture: how people are involved in keeping workplaces healthy and safe and how they think about the priority placed on health and safety where they work.
- Enforcement and compliance: the compliance with health and safety regulations and severity of orders issued for poor health and safety practices.
- Injuries: the injuries and illnesses that occur and how often, how long it takes people to get back to work, and the severity of the injuries, including loss of life.
Rather than measuring health and safety in individual workplaces, it looks at the province collectively. The index tracks the yearly change, per sector of Ontario’s economy, and is updated annually. As a result of its introduction in 2016, based on best practices at the time, there have been significant changes in the Ontario’s workplace health and safety system. How does your business compare to the provincial industry average? Check out this information at WSIB.ca Health and Safety Index to find out.
For the next few weeks, we will focus on workplace health and safety, as we know that a healthy, safe workplace and success go hand and hand.
- Workplace accident prevention and care;
- Employers’ responsibility with workplace health and safety;
- Employees responsibility with workplace health and safety
If you would like a consultation on how this article can be applied to your business, connect with us!
Please come back to view Tuesdays at 10 with Jen, where we will discuss different aspects impacting business, the different functional areas necessitated for business and all that is impacting the economy and your business.