Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

The Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan received the maximum penalty amount under the provincial health and safety legislation in connection with the death of miner, Robert Tkach, in September 2008. They were fined a total of $420,000 on March 15, 2010 after pleading guilty to one charge of failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of a worker, contrary to Section 3(a) of the Occupational Health & Safety Act. The fine includes the maximum penalty of $300,000 plus the maximum victim fine surcharge of $120,000.

The widow, Sylvia Tkach, says she is disappointed with the decision and believes that any fine amount needs to be greater in the province. “I don’t think they are high enough in Saskatchewan and they are not providing a deterrent,” she says. “It is not enough of a deterrent to change behaviours,” she argues.

Robert Tkach, age 60, was driving a jeep-like vehicle underground at Potash Corp’s Lanigan mine, located near the town bearing its name, when the vehicle went over the edge of an unguarded ramp and rolled.

Potash Corp. was originally charged with four other counts:

1. Failure of a supervisor to take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of a worker;
2. Failing to ensure all work is sufficiently and competently supervised;
3. Failing to ensure that a supervisor complies with the OHSA and related regulations; and
4. Failing to ensure a direct supervisor recorded all significant information relevant to the health and safety of a worker.

The supervisor, Garth Gudnason, was also charged with failing to take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of a worker who may be affected by Gudnason’s acts or omissions.

All the charges against the company and supervisor were withdrawn following the company’s guilty plea, confirms Potash Corp. spokesperson Bill Johnson. “There has certainly been some pretty significant changes to our practices” since the incident, he adds, pointing to a government review which identified a number of areas where improvements can be made.

Generally speaking, the changes relate to:

1. Safety training programs for employees and supervisors which include improved hazard recognition training and improved hazard identification, controls and inspections;
2. Operational policies and procedures such as better marking of potential hazards and inspection requirements before travel is permitted in certain areas of the mine; and
3. Underground vehicles which includes proper rollover protection.

My opinion

This not the first time Potash Corp. was disciplined for a death in the workplace. In 1998, Potash Corp. was levied the maximum, (back then it was the maximum) of $300,000, without a victim fine surcharge.

In 1996 three workers fell into the 90 degree Celsius hot brine solution in the crystallizer soluble thickener. They were in there to replace the wooden support beams on the west side. Two died and the third suffered second and third degree burns to about 95% of his body. The mill foreman was aware of the concerns but decided to only drain some of the solution, but not all of it.” The cover of the thickener had been inspected two months prior to the incident as a result of complaints that the wooden top was rotten.

In this case, Ontario law would have prevented the company from operating the unit with a ‘Stop Work’ order. This type of order commits the company to make the necessary changes before any further work has been done.

In closing, Robert Tkach’s widow made a strong case for future fines. “In cases like this where a company deals with a repeat conviction, fines should be increased accordingly.”

As a health and safety trainer in Ontario, I would suggest an increase in fines as a form of progressive discipline would have been the case here in Ontario. In fact, I know so. I’ve never reviewed a case in Ontario where the Ontario MOL dropped all the charges to drive a guilty plea. That is definitely saying, “We will pay the fine but we do not admit guilt.”

Remember — In Canada, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

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

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