Criminal Code Broadened on Workplace Health and Safety Violations

Bill C-45 which amends the Criminal Code and makes corporations and other organizations criminally liable for violations of workplace safety regulations took effect March 31, 2004. Company directors through to supervisors face increased penalties and criminal prosecution for lack of care in providing a safe workplace. The law applies to all workplaces in B.C. and not just those that fall under federal jurisdiction.

Workplace Health and Safety Violations Brought Under the Criminal Code

(WSCA Rumour Mill)

Bill C-45 came into effect at the end of March broadening criminal liability for workplace health and safety violations to ensure “employers are held fully accountable for safe work environments.” The amendments to the Criminal Code specifically establish corporate criminal liability for work place health and safety. They were prompted in part by the public outcry and judicial inquiry recommendations following the 1992 Westray Mine disaster in which 26 miners died. No individuals or the corporate employer were convicted of criminal negligence or any other workplace health and safety offences in connection with that tragedy.

All jurisdictions in Canada have occupational health and safety regulations and the new law adds additional liability and tougher sentencing under the Criminal Code. It increases the emphasis on employers to review their occupational health and safety plans, ensure they are taking all “reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm,” and assess their real commitment to workplace health and safety. The laws apply to all workplaces in Canada and not just those that fall under federal jurisdiction.

Federal Bill C-45 Takes Effect

(From B.C. Construction Association)

The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has announced that Bill C-45 will take effect March 31, 2004. This Bill, which was developed in response to the Westray mine disaster in Nova Scotia, provides amendments to the Criminal Code and effectively makes corporations and other organizations criminally liable.

The amendments focus on the relationship between corporate liability and public safety. Employers that fail to provide a safe workplace may be dealt with through the criminal law.

Organizations may be criminally liable:

As a result of the criminal actions of senior officers who oversee day-to-dayoperations in addition to the acts of directors and executives;

When officers with executive or operational authority become aware of offences being committed by other employees but do not take action to stop them in order to benefit the organization, at least in part; or

When the actions of those with authority and other employees, taken as a whole, demonstrate a lack of care that constitutes criminal negligence.

The amendments also increase the maximum fine for a summary conviction (or less serious) offence from $25,000 to $100,000. There will also now be a legal duty on all those who direct work, including employers, to take reasonable measures to protect employee and public safety. Wanton or reckless disregard of this duty causing death or bodily harm could result in a charge of criminal negligence.

For more information on Bill C-45, a plain language guide is available on the Department of Justice web site:

www.canada.justice.gc.ca/en/dept/pub/c45/index.html.