OHS Canada Magazine

Former auto shop owner fined more than $27,000 for violations in worker’s death

Nova Scotia mechanic suffered fatal burns in 2013


By Keith Doucette

HALIFAX — A judge has handed more than $27,000 in penalties to a former autobody shop owner who pleaded guilty to three workplace safety violations in connection with the death of a mechanic nearly seven years ago in Dartmouth, N.S.

During a hearing last September, Elie Hoyeck admitted to failing to ensure the safety of his workers, failing to ensure that the shop’s equipment was safe and failing to have an emergency response plan in place for working with hazardous materials.

Mechanic Peter Kempton sustained fatal burns in September 2013 while using an acetylene torch to remove a gas tank from a minivan at Hoyeck’s autobody shop, which has since closed.

“The admitted safety violations demonstrate that Mr. Hoyeck had a reckless disregard or deliberate indifference to safety,” provincial court Judge Elizabeth Buckle said in an oral decision delivered via Skype on Friday.

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“The safety violations were serious. Some played a role in Mr. Kempton’s death, and many posed a significant potential hazard.”

Sentence sends message

Buckle said the sentence should send a message to other employers about the importance of safety, while reflecting proportionality and restraint.

“Mr. Hoyeck … accepted responsibility for the offences and expressed sadness for the loss of Mr. Kempton, with whom he had a long working relationship,” the judge said.

Buckle said the penalty had to cause some pain to “bring home the gravity of the offence” but couldn’t be “crushing” because of the small size of Hoyeck’s former business and his current limited finances.

The judge ordered the penalty totalling $27,250 be made up of a fine of $15,000, a victim surcharge of $2,250, and a $10,000 donation to a safety education fund, while Hoyeck has also been ordered to co-operate with the Department of Labour in making a safety video.

Crown prosecutor Alex Keaveny had previously suggested a fine of between $60,000 and $70,000 fine, while defence lawyer Trevor McGuigan had asked for a fine totalling $6,000, suggesting $2,000 for each offence.

Employee was removing gas tank

Kempton was working under a 1998 Dodge Caravan that was being stripped down at Your Mechanic Auto Corner when it became engulfed in flames while he was using an acetylene torch to remove the steel straps holding the gas tank in place.

He suffered second and third-degree burns over 90 per cent of his body and died the next day in hospital.

Buckle said Hoyeck’s conduct was not the direct or immediate cause of the death, but she said it was her view that the safety violations did play a role in Kempton’s death. She said Hoyeck knew that Kempton was using the torch in the confined space under the van and knew it was unsafe.

“He had the authority to stop him and he didn’t,” Buckle said. “That failure contributed to Mr. Kempton’s death in more than a trivial way.”

In January 2019, Hoyeck was acquitted of criminal negligence causing death in a criminal prosecution under Bill C-45 — also known as the Westray law.

The charge was the first in the province under that law, which was passed after 26 miners were killed when methane gas ignited in the Plymouth, N.S., coal mine in May 1992.

Hoyeck who now lives in P.E.I., has been ordered to pay the fine on or before June 9, 2023 and has a year to complete the video, which Buckle suggested should be dedicated to Kempton.