Swing Stage Accident Fine Tripled by the Court of Appeal!

The Ontario Court of Appeal has more than tripled the fine a Toronto-based construction company must pay after four workers fell to their deaths from scaffolding on Christmas Eve in 2009.

Metron Construction was originally fined $200,000 in provincial court earlier this year, but in a decision released on Sept. 4, a panel of three judges ruled unanimously to increase the fine to $750,000.

In July, Metron Construction became the first company in Ontario to be convicted of criminal negligence causing death under the Criminal Code.

The accident occurred on Dec. 24, 2009, when a swing stage scaffold 13 storeys above ground at an apartment complex in Toronto broke, causing the four workers to fall to their death and one other to be critically injured.

The accident was the worst construction accident in more than 50 years in Toronto and led to amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act to increase protection for workers and reduce the chance of future accidents.

Court of Appeal’s decision

The lower court judge erred by looking at comparable fines under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, when attention should have been paid to more serious penalties under the Criminal Code, the Court of Appeal said in its recent decision.

The original fine was “manifestly unfit” because it didn’t convey a message on the importance of worker safety, the Appeal Court said.

“Indeed, some might treat such a fine as simply a cost of doing business,” according to the decision. “Workers employed by a corporation are entitled to expect higher standards of conduct than that exhibited by the respondent. Denunciation and deterrence should have received greater emphasis. They did not. The sentence was demonstrably unfit.”

The provincial court judge sentenced Metron president Joel Swartz to pay $90,000, as well as a $22,500 victim surcharge fine, for four convictions under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Prosecutors dropped charges of criminal negligence causing death against Swartz after his guilty plea because they believed there was no reasonable chance of conviction.

Metron project manager Vadim Kazenelson still faces a criminal trial on charges resulting from the deaths