Should Injuries to Non-Workers Be Treated the Same as Injuries to Workers?

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The primary goal of the OHS laws is to ensure the health and safety of workers. But employers’ duties don’t end with their staff; employers are also required by the OHS and other laws, such as occupier liability laws, to protect visitors to their workplaces. (Click here for information on how to create a visitor safety policy for your workplace.) And health and safety duties don’t end at the workplace’s walls, either. A recent case from Alberta shows how a company can be held liable for injuries to someone simply passing by a worksite.

Companies Fined a Mere $15,000 for Three-Year-Old’s Death

According to the Calgary Herald, a couple, their son and daughter were walking down the street when wind blew a bundle of steel off the roof of a construction project, striking the group. The three-year-old daughter died instantly; the husband and son were injured. Two companies pleaded guilty to violating the Alberta Safety Codes Act by allowing an unsafe condition on the worksite. The court hit each company with the maximum fine—$15,000. But the judge called this penalty “woefully inadequate.”

The judge wasn’t the only one unhappy with the penalty. The Municipal Affairs Minister and the little girl’s mother both said the maximum fine for safety violations such as these should be higher. The mother noted that $15,000 is a “paltry amount” for large companies. The girl’s family may pursue a civil lawsuit.

Consider this: if a worker been killed by the sheet metal—rather than a bystander—the maximum penalty would have been $500,000 and/or six months’ jail for a first offence.

Workplace safety investigators had looked into the incident but no OHS charges were laid. “The Crown prosecutors determined that it’s not appropriate to lay charges under the OHS act because workers were not involved, and the scope of the OHS act is the health and safety of Alberta workers,” said Alberta Employment spokesman Barrie Harrison.

What do you think—should companies be penalized as severely for incidents involving people such as visitors or bystanders as they are for incidents involving workers?