August 23, 2012
Trial begins for City of Guelph, Ontario in connection with fatal wall collapse
A trial has begun for the City of Guelph, Ontario, which was charged as an employer under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in connection with the collapse three years ago of a wall, killing 14-year-old Isabel Warren.
In an information bulletin posted to the city website Aug. 20, the city noted it has prepared and submitted a statement of agreed facts "in the hope of reducing the length of the trial."
According to court records, the city was charged with failing, as an employer, to ensure that a wall or other part of a workplace was capable of supporting all loads to which it may be subjected, without causing the materials therein to be stressed beyond the allowable unit stresses established under the Building Code Act, at a workplace.
The relevant section of the Occupational Health and Safety Act is Section 25 (1) (e).
The building, at 25 Poppy Drive, included a washroom, shower and change room at South End Community Park.
On June 16, 2009, Warren, a grade 9 student, was in the washroom facilities when she began to hoist herself onto the ledge of a change table affixed to a concrete block privacy wall, according to court records. The wall leaned forward, collapsed and killed her by blunt force trauma.
The city, architect L. Alan Grinham and engineer Larry Argue were all charged after an investigation by the Ministry of Labour.
Both Grinham and Argue were charged under the health and safety law with providing negligent and incompetent advice as an architect and engineer respectively. The charges against Argue and Grinham were dismissed last April by Judge M.J. Epstein on the grounds that the alleged acts had occurred more than one year before the last act or default which was the basis of the prosecution occurred.
The project was substantially completed June 18, 2004, according to the statement of agreed facts. On October 5, 2007, Grinham had sent a letter to the City of Guelph confirming his firm was of the opinion that the work had been done in general compliance with the construction documents submitted by the City of Guelph for the purpose of obtaining the building permit, and that the buildings were suitable for the intended use and occupancy. That letter was sent nearly two years after Argue had sent a letter to Grinham’s firm confirming the engineering firm had done several reviews of the project and that all structural work was complete and satisfactory.
In a ruling last April, Judge Epstein ruled that the city has a continuing obligation to ensure that a workplace is maintained in a safe manner, an obligation which continues beyond any construction phase and endures for as long as the site remains a workplace.
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