Blog Post #168 – Ford Motor Company – Fine Tops One Million Dollars

Excerpt from the OHS Canada magazine

by Emily Landau, Editorial Assistant

Ford Motor Company of Canada was penalized more than $1 million on May 25 following the deaths of two workers in separate incidents in 2008 and 2009.

Of the $1,062,500 penalty, $850,000 was a fine under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act; the remainder was a compulsory 25 per cent victim fine surcharge. Ford pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to take all reasonable precautions in the circumstances to protect the safety of one worker killed in January of 2008 and another a year later, the Ministry of Labour (MOL) notes in a statement.

“Fines are always larger, of course, when we’re talking about fatalities,” MOL spokesperson Bruce Skeaff says of the “significant” penalty, the largest in recent history. “We always seek and hope to have come out of these cases fines that are appropriate to the circumstances. In each of these two cases, we have people [who] died,” Skeaff adds.

On January 31, 2008, 30-year employee Sarwan Baraich died at the company’s assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario when he was struck by a forklift, notes Ford spokesperson Kerri Stoakley. The MOL’s investigation found that the forklift operator failed to keep a clear view of the vehicle’s trajectory while it was backing up.

The second incident took place on the morning of January 14, 2009 at a parts distribution centre in nearby Brampton. The worker, Shara Flanigan, “was driving the lift truck down a narrow aisle [when] the pallet struck a storage rack,” the MOL reports. Flanigan was crushed between the pallet and vehicle.

The MOL probe determined that material movement procedures being used were inadequate.

Kim Clout, plant chair for Flanigan’s union, Local 584 of the Canadian Auto Workers, says the accident was especially shocking because an MOL inspector had recently visited the site and lauded its safety standards. He praised “the newer area with new racking [and] a wire-guided system,” recalls Clout, explaining that the system ensures that the vehicle remains on a specific path.

Since the deaths, Stoakley says that “Ford has cascaded to our facilities in North America a training lesson with respect to material handling vehicles, stock placement and load to reinforce corporate safety requirements, including to look in the direction of the forklift path of travel.” —

My opinion

As a former employee of one of the Big 3, I was not surprised with the events as well as the size of the fines.

I recently retired after 31+ years and can tell you that health and safety was not a primary concern, at least with the forklift drivers. The above scenario played out every day on the docks in Oshawa and safety was always skirted. I will endeavour to elaborate.

Picture a plan to break up your work day by increments of time. The company then feels your job is set at a 57 minute hour. Your expertise behind the wheel of a class 1 forklift is such that you can just make the time. The company, then, comes in on Monday of the next week, and lets you know they goofed and that they recalculated your time to about a 52 minute hour and need to add more work to your work day. This does not happen just once but many times. People are eliminated and work loads increased. Picture the end result. A once ‘competent’ operator now is been made unsafe. An accident occurs because of the stress and the MOL is called and the employee is disciplined. His spotless record is of no account and he is humiliated and probably depressed that he/she may have hurt or killed another worker. It happened again and again. It is too bad the union did not invoke Section 43 of the ACT, a work refusal, and make the company establish a safe set of work standards once and for all, which all drivers could adhere to.

Another problem was that many of the forklift drivers decided on retiring leaving openings for new drivers. The new drivers had to immediate live up to the standards established on the old and very experienced former drivers. More accidents were to happen. It really plays on a new driver’s self-confidence and makes that driver nervous.

One former driver warned me, after 15 years behind the wheel, that he was becoming unsafe. He was one of the safest and most competent drivers I ever knew.

I now train forklift competency as well as Basic Certification Level 1 and 2. May the union needs to go back to Basic Certification training to remind them that health and safety in the workplace is the top priority of the MOL, and should be for the employers.

Understandable, isn’t it!

Remember — In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety need including ‘Forklift Certification’ and ‘Forklift Re-Certification’. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.

We can also be reached at 

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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