Could health and safety breaches lead to jail time?

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Metron Construction owner Joel Swartz pleaded guilty to charges including failing to provide the right training and failing to provide a safe work environment over a 2009  accident in which four workers died. A fifth work suffered serious injuries when their swing stage scaffold collapsed and plunged 13 storeys during construction repairs at an apartment building site in Etobicoke.

Prosecutors dropped charges of criminal negligence causing death against Swartz, Metron’s owner, president and sole director, because they believed there was no reasonable chance of conviction.

While Canada’s criminal code allows for jail time, as long as the courts continue to accept plea bargains, charges were unlikely to result in a  jail sentence, Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti employment lawyer Russell Groves said.

Last year Pasquale Scrocca, owner of a Quebec landscape company, was charged after a backhoe he was operating rolled down a slope and killed  one of his employees. Scrocca was sentenced to a conditional sentence of imprisonment of two years less one day. The sentence was to be served in the community with conditions, including a curfew.

The crown sought $1 million in damages, while the company suggested $100,000. The court ordered the company to pay $200,000, Swartz to pay $90,000, plus a total of $52,000 in victim surcharge.

While unions were disappointed that the fines weren’t bigger and no individuals faced jail time, the purpose of such fines was not about quantifying a life, Groves said.

“The purpose is to denounce the poor managerial practices, and to be a deterrent to other companies. A fine like this could put a company out of business,” he said. “In some cases maybe that’s what should happen is they’re so incapable of operating within safety standards, but in other cases it would just put a lot of people out of work. There needs to be a balance.”







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