A court in Saskatchewan recently let an employer, Saskatchewan Power Corporation, off the hook when it came to violations of occupational health and safety rules when a supervisor acts completely on their own. The decision in this case was made based on the fact that the explosion that led to a worker’s injury and to OHS charges was caused when a supervisor actually defied the employer’s instructions when he used a torch to melt an accumulation of ice in a culvert.
The investigation into the incident discovered that, prior to the accident, there had been a production meeting, during which the supervisor raised the issue of the ice accumulation and openly worried that water might flow over the road in a way that could block access to a cooling tower at a Saskatchewan Power electrical generating plant. However, during that meeting, the supervisor was told by the production manager to allow the ice to melt on its own. The manager also noted that in the six years he had been there, the road had never washed out.
Despite those orders, however, the supervisor decided to employ a “tiger torch” in an attempt to melt the ice. When the flame of the torch went out, gas accumulated in the culvert, so that, when the supervisor told another worker to relight the torch, there was an explosion, which resulting in that worker being seriously burned on his face, hands and arms.
After the accident, Saskatchewan Power was charged with four violations of the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act regarding inadequate training. The court, however, disagreed, noting that the company had sent the supervisor to a four-day “supervisory essentials” course and that the injured worker had been trained sufficiently to avoid such an accident. But the court went further, noting that the employer had told the supervisor to not try to melt the ice in the culvert, which meant the employer was essentially off the hook for the OHS violations and the charges were dismissed. According to the court, the employer can’t be held responsible when a supervisor does something that the employer couldn’t possibly have foreseen.