FREDERICTON – The United Steelworkers union (USW) is gratified with the verdict in the criminal trial of a supervisor found guilty of criminal negligence causing the death of 18-year-old worker Michael Henderson at Springhill Construction in 2018.
Henderson died while he was in a four-foot-wide utility hole and a plug holding back water slid out. He was pinned to a wall as the water rushed in, well above his head.
The extent of supervisor Jason King’s negligence was highlighted in his testimony at trial and the judge’s findings of fact. King had failed to read any of the company’s safety manuals or the manual setting out his duties and responsibilities as a supervisor. He failed to follow obvious safety direction of the plug’s manufacturer and failed to comply with the legislative requirements for confined-space work.
“The Steelworkers union welcomes this verdict. Serious workplace injuries and fatalities have continued to occur without consequence to supervisors or companies. While the Westray Law was not applied here, our union is gratified that someone is being held criminally responsible for the young worker’s death as Westray requires,” said Marty Warren, USW National Director.
Between 2004 and 2022, the Westray amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada have been used in approximately 23 incidents to bring criminal negligence charges in cases of serious worker injury and death. Of those 23 cases, charges were brought against 13 corporations and 17 individuals.
As of early 2022, there have been only nine successful prosecutions under the Westray amendments – four in Quebec, four in Ontario and one in British Columbia. Those prosecutions resulted in the conviction of seven corporations and two individuals. Sentences have been relatively minor.
“This young worker’s death, like many, many workplace deaths, was preventable. There is a reason we have laws and regulations in our workplaces – it is so workers are kept safe and go home in one piece after each shift. I hope this verdict sends a message to employers that there is indeed a price to pay for neglecting to keep workers healthy and safe,” said Myles Sullivan, USW District 6 Director (Ontario and Atlantic Canada).
“We send our sincere and heartfelt condolences to Michael Henderson’s family and friends. The New Brunswick Federation of Labour (NBFL) will continue to work with the Steelworkers union in ensuring that there is greater knowledge of the Westray Law and its application, if needed, in our province. Together, we will continue fighting to make sure workers across New Brunswick are safe and healthy at work,” said Daniel Légère, NBFL President.
USW Westray Legal Brief, 2022
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