Law of the Year
A bill that increased fines for OHS violations for the first time since 1996 took effect on May 19. The maximum fine is now $250,000 for a first offence but rises to $500,000 for additional offences within five years. In addition, the maximum fine for any offence involving a death is now $500,000.
Other Notable Regulatory Changes
Technical Safety Act
On April 1, the Technical Safety Act become law. New regulations covering boilers and pressure equipment, fuel safety, crane operators, power engineers, standards, general matters and fees also took effect.
Case of the Year
NS Finds Safety Coordinator Liable for an OHS Violation
The OHS coordinator for a housing authority got test results indicating that insulation from attic space contained asbestos. The testing company told him what safety measures to take, which he passed along to two maintenance supervisors. But they didn’t follow through on those measures. Months later, when an electrical contractor learned about the test results, he contacted the Department of Environment & Labour, which charged the housing authority, OHS coordinator and maintenance supervisors with OHS violations. The Nova Scotia Provincial Court convicted the OHS coordinator of violating his “general duty” as an “employee” to protect his own safety and that of co-workers and fined him $1,000. The court said there was nothing wrong with what he did—he just didn’t do enough. For example, he should’ve immediately reported the test results to his supervisor and the JHSC and followed up with the maintenance supervisors [R v. Della Valle,  NSPC 67 (CanLII), Sept. 14, 2011].
Other Notable Cases
Record Fine Imposed for Deaths of Two from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
A security guard at a wind farm and a friend who was visiting him were overcome by fumes from an improperly installed electrical generator in a maintenance shed. The company pleaded guilty to three OHS violations. The judge fined it $95,000, the largest fine ever imposed under the OHS law in Nova Scotia [Rotor Mechanical Service Ltd., Sept. 1, 2011].
Case Shows How Response to Incident Can Affect Sentencing
A car dealership didn’t take the safety precautions set out in the MSDS for the hazardous chemicals it used to clean paint guns. There was an explosion and fire that originated in a gun wash barrel in which a worker died. The dealership pleaded guilty to an OHS violation. The court noted that by pleading guilty, the dealership acknowledged that its compliance with the WHMIS requirements was lax. But there was no evidence that the dealership’s violations actually caused the explosion and fire. The court also praised the dealership for its response to the incident, including spending $19,000 on safety improvements. As a result, the court concluded that a total penalty of $38,750 was appropriate despite the fact that it’s a relatively low amount for a violation resulting in a fatality [R. v. O’Regan Chevrolet Cadillac Ltd.,  NSPC 68 (CanLII), Dec. 8, 2010].
Towing Company Fined $75,000 for Barge’s Sinking
A NB towing company towed a barge into the heart of a gathering storm. The barge capsized and sank off the coast of Nova Scotia. The company pleaded guilty under the Canada Shipping Act to jeopardizing the safety of three crew members who narrowly escaped with their lives. The court fined it $75,000 [R. v. Atlantic Towing Ltd.,  NSPC 10 (CanLII), March 3, 2011].
Drug Company Fined $47,000 for Chemist’s Death
A chemist died from lung failure after exposure to trimethylsilyldiazomethane in a quality control laboratory. The drug company pleaded guilty to failing to provide proper workplace ventilation and was fined $47,000. The deceased chemist’s family called the fine “a slap on the hand of a giant pharmaceutical company” [Sepracor Canada, May 5, 2011].
Commissionaire Didn’t Properly Raise OHS Concerns to Employer
An employer fired a commissionaire for his conduct, including failing to obey directions and refusing assignments. The commissionaire claimed that he’d been fired for raising health and safety concerns. The OHS Appeal Panel ruled that the employer had valid business reasons for his termination. His concerns about exposure to smoke and dust may have been legitimate but he never notified his employer about them or followed work refusal procedures. He just complained to co-workers [O.H.S. No. OHS-00131,  NSOHSAP 21 (CanLII), Feb. 10, 2011].