I fought the mock law (and the mock law won)

You employ a forklift driver at your scrap steel plant. You create a path to show where the forklift can and cannot go. Your employee takes a shortcut and is hurt in an accident. Are you liable?

This interesting scenario played out this morning in front of a packed house of IAPA delegates on the final day of the Health & Safety Show 2007.

In the mock trial, the factory worker (played by Bill Bowman) was employed by the "First Rate Temporary Agency," and sent to work at scrap steel maker "Acme Steel." Although there was a clear path marked by pylons where the forklift drivers were to stay within, Bowman took a shortcut and was hit by a dump truck, costing him his arm and some loss of memory.

Both First Rate and Acme were charged with negligence in failing to inform the worker of potential danger, and Acme was also charged for negligence in failing to install safety barriers to keep the forklifts out of the line of trucks.

The audience heard many good points by both the Crown (the Canadian term for Prosecutor), played by Brian Blumenthal, and the Defence, represented by real-life defence attorneys Cheryl Edwards and Ryan Conlin.

Key points for the Crown included:

  • Other drivers also took shortcuts and were not disciplined to his knowledge – he felt is was considered an acceptable practice
  • Bowman's boss was on his case to get his work done quickly, as he had been late for work
  • Bowman was never told why he shouldn't go past the pylons: "I considered it more of a guideline," he testified.
  • Pylons can be easily knocked over
  • The issue of installing permanent barriers was endorsed by Acme's own Joint Health and Safety Committee

The key points by the Defence were:

  • Bowman had received a document that stated the risk of being hit by dump trucks, although there was no proof Bowman ever read the document or that he was ordered to by his supervisor
  • In fact two drivers had been suspended for straying beyond the pylons (Bowman claimed not to know about the suspensions)
  • Bowman had received a forklift certificate from the IAPA mandated by First Rate
  • Bowman received a 95 percent score on his forklift driver's test before he was hired
  • There is no legislation requires full barriers in this situation

Interestingly, the mock judge in the case was harder on the defendants than the audience. The audience was mixed on whether Acme Steel should be found guilty for not providing barriers, while acquitting Acme and First Rate of all other charges.

The mock law came down much harder. The judge (played by Vic Pakalnis) determined that not enough evidence had been brought forward on the issue of the concrete blocker, but that Acme was guilty of being negligent in informing Bowman of the dangers on the job. The mock company was slapped with a $100,000 fine.

This demonstration of the law shows that employers need to be proactive in their delivery of safety messages, and cannot be lax in enforcing safety rules.

Another mock trial will be performed Friday at the International Association of Labor Inspectors conference in Toronto. The IALI conference continues in Toronto through Friday.

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