High Stakes: Don’t gamble when it comes to plant safety
According to Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the average workplace lost-time injury in the province costs more than $59,000. This is just a starting point when determining the real cost of accidents. The following are some causes of plant-related accidents:
1. Inadequate safety planning and equipment operation.
Plant engineers, maintainers and safety professionals have to deal with hundreds of standards. At the same time, however, there can be a lack of information available to them (i.e. proper instructions on how to control circuits, equipment design, as well as guarding and control measures).
2. Failure to assess, control or eliminate hazardous work situations.
By far, the most effective way to reduce accidents is to eliminate the hazards that cause them. Can a job be done using a safe piece of equipment? Is a specific chemical really necessary, or can a less toxic one do the job? These are questions that plant managers and workers must ask themselves.
3. Failure to train employees about hazards and safe-work procedures.
“Maintenance people are skilled professionals who understand machinery and the risks," says Tom Doyle, a health and safety consultant with Fergus, ON-based Industrial Safety Integration. This knowledge, however, can lead to complacency around hazards. By law, everyone working with or near a hazard must be informed about potential dangers and receive appropriate training.
4. Failure to develop and write down safe-work procedures.
Once a safety procedure is developed, it must be presented in an easily understood and accessible format. It’s imperative that all employees know where to go to find information.
5. Over-reliance on personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Companies often start and end their health and safety program with PPE," says Doyle. Workers must use safety goggles, steel-toed boots, protective gloves and masks, etc. A mistake is made, however, when organizations determine they don’t have to do more to improve safety performance.
Bill C-45 update
Can you be found criminally negligent with Bill-C45? The short answer is yes. Under section 217.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada, individuals, organizations and corporations can be convicted of criminal negligence for failure to take reasonable steps to protect the lives and safety of workers and the public.
The provisions, contained in Bill C-45, came into effect on March 31, 2004. According to lawyer Cheryl Edwards of the legal firm Stringer Brisbin Humphrey, the definition of those who fall under the purview of s. 217.1 is fairly broad. If you direct a person to perform a task, you now have a legal duty to protect that person.
In other words, unlike the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), it’s not just managers and appointed supervisors who are liable under Bill C-45, but everyone who undertakes directing others. This includes lead hands and plant forepersons.
There’s some good news, however, Edwards says. Under Bill C-45, the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the actions of those charged represented a “marked and significant departure from the standard of a reasonably prudent person in the circumstances."
“There must be evidence of behaviour that shows disregard for, or indifference to the duty," says Edwards. “As one court put it, there must be a ‘devil-may-care’ attitude that shows a criminal standard has been met."
If the Crown is successful, the maximum charge for a summary conviction (the least serious manner of proceeding) is $100,000. Where the Crown proceeds by indictment (the most serious) there’s no limit on the amount of a fine that can be imposed on a corporation or organization. Individuals are subject to a range of Criminal Code sentencing options, including absolute discharge to life in prison, depending on the specific offence.
The maximum penalty for criminal negligence (i.e. causing death) is life imprisonment. Edwards offers the following advice to better protect yourself under Bill C-45:
– Ensure your company’s health and safety training includes lead hands and others who may formally and informally direct others;
– Report any potential problems to management and follow up to make sure they’re dealt with and resolved;
– Ensure that all equipment and machinery at least meet the appropriate standards, such as those from the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), whenever possible; and
– Respond to any reports of hazards from workers and the company’s joint health and safety committee. Ignoring them could easily be portrayed as reckless actions should a prosecution loom.
Laurie J. Blake is a Newmarket, ON-based freelance writer.