RNC to start criminal investigation at every workplace where serious injury, death occur

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is working with Calgary Police Service on the new protocol, which could mean jail for negligent employers.

Managers were previously only subject to fines

Joe Boland is chief of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary's new involvement in investigating workplace deaths or serious injuries marks a "significant difference" that could land employers and supervisors in jail if a workplace is found to be unsafe.

The RNC is working with Calgary Police Service to change how it investigates workplace incidents — the force will now start criminal investigations at the site of every incident, rather than securing the scene and handing things over to Occupational Health and Safety [OHS].

Police in Calgary already take the lead on serious workplace incidents and now they're training members of the RNC.

Members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and St. John's Regional Fire Department attended the scene of a fatal industrial incident in May at a Hilton Garden Inn, that is under construction. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"We think we do have the responsibility to make sure we do the right thing here with regards to the criminal code," RNC Chief Joe Boland told CBC News.

"So we're going to shift to make sure if there is criminal negligence involved, that we lay the appropriate charges."

Different from Occupational Health and Safety

Occupational Health and Safety can fine an unsafe employer, but the change involving a police investigation means managers could face jail time.

"Anybody who is responsible for directing somebody else to do work, if they're aware of that, then they'll ensure that a person's workplace is safer," Boland said.

He called the change a "significant difference" and said the heightened stakes should help keep employers within the RNC's jurisdiction accountable.

Death of Chris Fifield

The switch to police taking the lead has already happened in at least one case.

The RNC is leading the investigation into the death of ​Chris Fifield, 26, according to Boland.

A man is dead after falling from this construction site near the Delta Hotel in St. John's Monday afternoon. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The worker was killed May 28 after falling from a construction site in downtown St. John's.

The investigation is ongoing and no details were provided around whether charges would be laid in to the case, but with police investigating – if fault is determined – it is possible.

Why protocol is changing

"The Federation of Labour came to us awhile ago and asked us to look at the Westray Amendment," Boland said.

The Westray Bill, which became law in 2004, was created when the owners and managers of Westray Mine in Nova Scotia weren't able to be prosecuted for a methane gas explosion that killed 26 workers in 1992.

We will no longer just turn the investigation immediately over to [Occupational Health and Safety].- Chief Joe Boland

Boland said the RNC decided to take the lead at the scene of serious workplace incidents after looking at the legislation. 

"We'll also work with [OHS,] they'll run a parallel investigation with us," Boland said. "But we will no longer just turn the investigation immediately over to them."