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Occupational health & safety aboard the millennium falcon (and the cosmic definition of “workplace” under the Occupational Health and Safety Act)

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As an occupational health & safety lawyer and a Star Wars fan, a recent news report regarding an incident aboard the legendary Millennium Falcon naturally caught my attention.

In that regard, British occupational health & safety authorities announced last month that criminal charges had been issued against Foodles Production (UK) Ltd. (“Foodles”, which is a subsidiary of Walt Disney Co., and the producer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens) in connection with a June 2014 accident on the Millennium Falcon set, which resulted in actor Harrison Ford – Han Solo himself – suffering a broken leg and being airlifted to hospital for surgery.

More specifically, Foodles was charged with four violations of workplace health and safety laws; and, in a statement, the British Health and Safety Executive commented that “by law, employers must take reasonable steps to protect workers – this is as true on a film set as a factory floor.”

Although this incident and the resulting charges arose in the UK, they nonetheless hold significance here in Ontario, where the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) sets out a myriad of obligations, including the “catch-all” duty that parallels the legal obligation described by the British Health and Safety Executive – i.e. under the OHSA, employers are required to “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.”

Furthermore, the statement that “this is as true on a film set as a factory floor” calls to mind the very broad definition of “workplace” under the OHSA – i.e.  “any land, premises, location or thing at, upon, in or near which a worker works.”  In that regard, the incident aboard the Millennium Falcon represents a reminder to employers in Ontario that neither the “workplace” nor their duties under the OHSA will be circumscribed by (i) the four walls of an employer’s traditional “premises”, or (ii) an employer’s normal business hours.

Rather, the workplace extends (and employers’ duties under the OHSA likewise extend) to any place where (a) the employer, through any of its workers, conducts business, and (b) the employer hosts social functions for its workers.  This would include, for example:

  • off-site work locations – e.g. client sites, home offices, and “mobile” workplaces (such as in the case of trucks, boats and other vessels like the Millennium Falcon);
  • training sessions and conferences, whether on or off-site; and
  • office parties , whether on or off-site.

It is very important for employers to be mindful of the breadth and scope of the definition of “workplace” when developing and implementing occupational health & safety programs, when conducting risk assessments for the purposes of Bill 168 (i.e. workplace violence and harassment) compliance, and when ensuring that they are fulfilling all of their OHSA obligations – including to “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances.”  And I suspect that Han Solo would concur with that recommendation.

Jason Beeho

About the Author: Toronto employment lawyer Jason Beeho brings a real-world sensibility to his representation of employers in all aspects of employment law, including human rights, occupational health & safety, and workplace safety & insurance. Jason enjoys the practice of employment law, and maintains a constant interest in keeping up-to-date on legal developments that could affect his clients.