September marks the beginning of the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s fall enforcement blitz of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Employers in the health care, construction, industrial and mining sectors will continue to be targeted in the fall round of safety blitzes. Readers of Focus will recall the summer blitzes which focused on health and safety for new and young workers in the targeted sectors (see Ontario Ministry of Labour announces targeted health and safety enforcement blitzes). The fall round of blitzes will shift its focus to supervisors on construction sites, and disease control and prevention in health care workplaces. From November to December, the Ministry will then target the manufacturing and mining industries. Employers in these sectors should review their compliance with the OHSA and have adequate procedures in place for Ministry inspections.
Like the summer blitz, the fall safety blitzes are part of the Ministry’s “Safe at Work Ontario” campaign and target specific industries for particular hazards under the OHSA. The Ministry states that since 2008, inspectors have conducted more than 345,000 field visits, 43 inspection blitzes and issued more than 560,000 compliance orders in Ontario workplaces.
SUPERVISION AT CONSTRUCTION SITES
Throughout the months of September and October, Ministry inspectors will be targeting construction projects with a focus on supervisory engagement. The Ministry states that inspectors will focus on the following key areas of a construction supervisor’s responsibilities:
- Competency — Inspectors will check that construction projects are supervised at all times by a competent supervisor or a competent person appointed by the supervisor.
- Ensuring worker compliance — Inspectors will check to see if supervisors are ensuring that workers are working in a safe manner, including using any required protective measures and procedures.
- Inspections — Inspectors will check that supervisors are conducting, at least weekly, inspections of buildings, structures, installations, systems and equipment, as well as access and egress at construction projects.
- Providing safety information — Inspectors will check that supervisors are advising workers of any potential or actual danger to their health and safety on the construction project.
- New and Young Workers — Inspectors will check that supervisors are informing new and young workers about potential or actual dangers at the construction site. They will also check that supervisors are ensuring these workers use any equipment, protective devices and clothing required by the employer.
INFECTION PREVENTION AND CONTROL IN HEALTH CARE WORKPLACES
Commencing in October and continuing through November, the Ministry will target workplaces in the health care sector, including hospitals, long-term care homes, retirement homes and community health centres. The focus for these blitzes will be on preventing the spread of infection. The Ministry states that in 2010, more than 1,150 health care workers filed infectious disease claims that were approved by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
The fall blitz of the health care sector will focus on whether:
- employers are taking precautions to protect workers;
- safe work practices are in place;
- personal protective equipment is being properly used and maintained; and
- workers are aware of infection hazards and are trained to handle infectious agents.
As was the case with the summer blitzes, Ministry inspectors will likely target workplaces where complaints were received or where there is a history of non-compliance with the OHSA. In addition, inspectors will visit projects that have been identified as being high priority due to potential hazards.
Ministry inspectors have extensive powers of enforcement under section 54 of the OHSA including 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.
In addition to these powers, the OHSA obligates employers and workers to assist any entry, search, inspection, investigation, inquiry or testing by an inspector.
Ministry inspectors have the authority to issue compliance orders to require an employer to comply with the relevant provision of the OHSA. Failure to comply with the OHSA, including failing to cooperate with an inspector, is an offence and may be subject to a fine of up to $500,000.
In our view
In order to prepare for the upcoming blitzes, employers should review their operations for compliance with the OHSA. In addition, employers should have a policy for dealing with site visits by Ministry inspectors. This may include the appointment of key individuals, trained in OHSA requirements, who can interact with an inspector. Employers that are visited by Ministry inspectors should keep detailed records of the inspection including details relating to what areas of the workplace were inspected, what information was requested, and which employees, if any, were interviewed.For more information, please contact Paul Lalonde at (613) 940-2759.