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Prison sentence for workplace death sends message to all employers: United Steelworkers

September 12, 2023

BURTON, N.B. – A three-year prison sentence imposed today on a construction supervisor for criminal negligence in a young worker’s death is a message to all Canadian employers, the United Steelworkers union (USW) says.

In the first such case in New Brunswick, a prison term was imposed on Jason King, who was a supervisor at Springhill Construction Ltd. on Aug. 16, 2018, when 18-year-old worker Michael Anthony Henderson was killed on the job.

“This sentence should send a strong message to employers across the country that all workplace parties, including supervisors and managers who direct work, must fulfill their obligations under the Criminal Code and workplace health and safety legislation,” said Myles Sullivan, USW Director for Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

“The sentence must serve as a deterrent to employers who continue to evade or minimize their responsibilities, to the detriment of worker safety,” Sullivan said.

Several members of the USW and other unions were in the courtroom today and yesterday to support Michael Henderson’s family during the sentencing hearing for King.

In June of this year, at the end of his trial in Court of King’s Bench, King was found guilty of criminal negligence causing Henderson’s death. The judge ruled that King’s actions showed “a wanton and reckless disregard” for Henderson’s safety while the teenager was working on a construction project at Fredericton’s wastewater treatment plant.

Henderson died while he was in a four-foot-wide utility hole and a plug holding back water slid out. He was pinned to a wall as the water rushed in, well above his head.

Evidence and testimony during King’s trial showed he had failed to read his company’s safety manuals or the manual setting out his duties and responsibilities as a supervisor. He failed to follow obvious safety direction of the plug’s manufacturer and failed to comply with the legislative requirements for confined-space work.

There has yet to be full accountability for Henderson’s death, as a trial is pending for Springhill Construction on the criminal negligence charge it faces, said Daniel Légère, President of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour.

“We do not believe this matter has come to an end with today’s sentencing of the supervisor,” said Légère, who was in the courtroom over the last two days to support Henderson’s family.

“The evidence already accepted in court demonstrates that the company employed a supervisor who was not sufficiently trained on critical health and safety issues,” he said. “The company’s role in this tragedy has not been resolved and we expect a vigorous prosecution on the criminal negligence charge.”

The charge against Springhill Construction for criminal negligence in a worker’s death is the first of its kind in New Brunswick history, according to WorkSafeNB, the province’s workplace health and safety agency.

“Our hearts go out to Michael Henderson’s family and friends,” said USW National Director Marty Warren.

“The tragedy of Michael’s death is that it was entirely and easily preventable. We believe it never would have happened if those responsible for workplace health and safety had lived up to their legal obligations,” Warren said.

“The case reaffirms the necessity for more frequent and forceful prosecution of employers who fail in their responsibility to protect workers and prevent workplace injuries and death,” he added.

Despite nearly 1,000 workplace-related deaths in Canada each year, there are incredibly few criminal prosecutions of employers, Warren noted. For example, of the thousands of workplace deaths across the country between 2004 and 2022, there have been only nine successful prosecutions under the Westray provisions of the Criminal Code, and sentences have been relatively minor.

Related links:

USW Westray Legal Brief

Westray: 30 years

USW campaign: Stop the Killing, Enforce the Law

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Media Contact

Marty Warren, USW National Director, 416-544-5951
Sylvia Boyce, USW Health, Safety and Environment Co-ordinator, 905-741-9830, sboyce@usw.ca
Daniel Légère, President, New Brunswick Federation of Labour, 506-381-8969, daniel@fednb.ca
Denis St. Pierre, USW Communications, 647-522-1630, dstpierre@usw.ca

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