Ontario Ministry of Labour announces targeted health and safety enforcement blitzes

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The Ontario Ministry of Labour has announced its plans for workplace health and safety inspection blitzes for the 2012-2013 year.  Employers may recall last year’s round of blitzes which included 9,000 visits to work sites and resulted in the issuance of 26,000 orders.  The blitzes for 2012 and 2013 are anticipated to be of the same scale as those of 2011 and 2012.  The safety blitzes  are part of the Ministry’s “Safe at Work Ontario” campaign and will specifically target the construction, health care, industrial and mining industries.  The enforcement blitzes will focus on a number of key health and safety issues at various times throughout the year.  The Ministry’s goal is to promote and ensure compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”) and to reduce fatalities and injuries in the workplace.

SUMMER SAFETY BLITZ FOR NEW AND YOUNG WORKERS

From May to August of 2012, Ministry of Labour health and safety inspectors will target health care, construction and industrial sector workplaces to ensure compliance with the OHSA in terms of new and young workers.  According to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, between 2006 and 2010, 34 young workers died in work-related incidents and more than 46,000 young workers received workplace injuries resulting in lost time at work.  A worker is considered “new” or “young” if they are between 14 and 24 years of age, or if they are over the age of 24 and have been on the job less than six months or have been reassigned to a new job. 

The summer safety blitz for new and young workers will focus on minimum age requirements, the proper training and supervision of young workers, and whether such workers are protected in the workplace by required safety measures.

CONSTRUCTION SECTOR BLITZES

Like last year, organizations in the construction sector will be subject to a number of safety blitzes targeting different safety hazards at various times throughout the year.  For the month of June, 2012, inspectors will be focusing on hazards associated with traffic control during highway construction.  Inspections throughout July and August of 2012 will focus on hoisting hazards associated with cranes.  Commencing in September and continuing through October of 2012, inspectors will be concentrating on supervisory responsibilities including training. Throughout February and March of 2013, slip, trip and fall hazards will be the focus for Ministry of Labour inspections.

HEALTH CARE SECTOR TO BE TARGETED FOR WORKPLACE VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT

Commencing in February, 2013, and continuing through March, 2013, Ministry of Labour safety blitzes will target the health care sector and will focus on workplace violence and harassment.  Organizations operating in this sector should ensure that they have in place policies for both workplace violence and workplace harassment.  The OHSA requires these policies to be in written form and posted in a conspicuous location in the workplace (for all but small employers with less than five employees).

In addition to the policies discussed above, organizations must have programs for the implementation of the violence and harassment policies.  The implementation programs must provide for the reporting of occurrences and their investigation.  The OHSA has additional requirements for workplace violence programs and organizations should review the OHSA requirements to ensure their policies are in compliance.  

POWERS OF MINISTRY INSPECTORS

Ministry of Labour inspectors carrying out compliance inspections are afforded extensive powers under section 54 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”).  These include the power to:

  • enter in or upon any workplace at any time without warrant or notice;
  • require the production of, and/or examine and copy, any document, record, report, or licence;
  • require anything found at a workplace to be tested or operated; and
  • make inquiries of any person who is or was in a workplace.

The OHSA also places corresponding obligations on employers and workers to “furnish all necessary means in the person’s power to facilitate” any entry, search, inspection, investigation, inquiry or testing by an inspector. 

Where non-compliance with the OHSA or its regulations is discovered, Ministry inspectors have the authority to immediately issue orders to require the employer to comply with the relevant provision of the OHSA within such period of time specified in the order.  Additionally, a person or a corporation that fails to comply with the OHSA, including failing to cooperate with an inspector, is guilty of an offence, and on conviction may be subject to a fine of up to $25,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than twelve months, or to both, in the case of a person, and up to $500,000 in the case of a corporation.

In our view

As part of the Ministry’s strategy for the upcoming enforcement blitzes, Ministry inspectors will likely target organizations that have a history of non-compliance with the OHSA or previous convictions under that statute.  In terms of preparation for the upcoming round of safety blitzes, organizations should review their operations for compliance with the OHSA.  All managers, supervisors, and employees should be trained for OHSA compliance appropriate to their job functions.  Organizations should have policies in place for dealing with inspections and Ministry inspectors.  This may include the appointment of a few key individuals who will deal directly with inspectors attending the workplace.  Such key individuals should be trained in terms of OHSA requirements, the role and powers of inspectors, and the OHSA obligations of management and employees during an inspection. 

Organizations should keep detailed notes of the interactions with inspectors and records of what areas of the workplace were inspected and which employees were interviewed.  Similarly, organizations should track any information demands made by inspectors and the organization’s response.

For further information, please contact Paul Lalonde at (613) 940-2759 or Sébastien Huard at (613) 940-2744.

For more news about recent developments in Employment and Labour Law, and for information about how our firm can assist you, please visit https://www.ehlaw.ca.