Employers have a duty, under Occupational Health and Safety
legislation, to provide information, training and supervision to
workers to protect their health and safety. An Ontario Court
recently held that an employer does not have a duty to train an
employee on a function that falls outside his or her job
In this case, the employee worked as an Emergency Medical
Services manager at the West Parry Sound Health Centre. The manager
asked a clerk to file a requisition for maintenance to repair a
malfunctioning air conditioning and heating unit. When the manager
was advised the maintenance department may not be available to fix
the unit until the following day, he decided he would attempt to
fix the problem himself. He asked for the assistance of one of his
co-workers, however, that co-worker was then called away. Without
speaking to anyone else, the manager removed a ladder from the wall
of an ambulance and climbed the ladder to check the heating and air
conditioning unit. When the manager reached the top of the ladder,
it gave way and he fell approximately 15-20 feet to the ground,
landing on his back and suffering serious injuries.
The Ministry of Labour laid charges against the employer
pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, alleging a
failure to properly train the manager on ladder use.
The court decided that the manager acted without the
employer's direction or approval and that the accident was not
foreseeable. It was found that in these circumstances, the employer
did not have a duty to provide training to the manager on such use
of a ladder. The court's rationale was that at the moment of
the accident, the manager was not doing work required by his
employer or work related to his job. Importantly, the manager was
aware of the proper procedure to have a maintenance worker check
the air conditioning and heating unit, yet decided to climb the
ladder in order to check it himself.
To illustrate its point, the court asked the following
"Would it be reasonable and necessary to provide
information, instruction and supervision to a maintenance worker on
the proper use of a hypodermic syringe?" and
"If a nurse at the West Parry Sound Health Centre hurt her
hand while using a hammer and nail to hang a picture, would that be
foreseeable and, therefore, necessitate training all nurses in how
to use a hammer and nail?"
The court stated that reasonable care and due diligence does not
mean "super human" efforts and that the Act and
regulations do not "mandate or seek to achieve the impossible
entirely risk-free work environment".
What this means for you
This decision confirms that, as an employer, your duty to
provide information, instruction and supervision is not unlimited.
Employers who provide proper training to employees, relating to
their specific job requirements, are not expected to offer training
in other skills or in duties and hazards unrelated to their
specific roles. Therefore, if an employee is acting outside his or
her job description, and is injured in an accident that was not
foreseeable, it is unlikely you, as the employer, would be
convicted under the applicable occupational health and safety
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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