An Ontario justice of the peace has held that an employer's
safety manual was defective, and has convicted the employer of four
charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The employer was charged after a worker was seriously injured
when he was hit by the bucket of an excavator while working in a
trench removing old pipes and replacing them with new ones.
The charges alleged a failure to adequately train the worker,
and failure to provide a competent, dedicated signaller who was
clear of the intended path of travel of the equipment.
The court stated that:
"[T]his court views the contents of the corporate Safety
Manual and the smaller Employee Safety and Environmental Handbook
to be lacking in efficiency. There was no reference to mandated
signals to be a standard use of communication between all
construction workers. The Safety Manual had a very short
description about the use of a ladder [to exit the trench].
There was conflicting information about the use of a 'top
man' at the work site. There was no specific testimony which
established that the employees were aware of the content of every
safety and health instruction in the Safety Manual."
The justice of the peace also stated that, "The employee
handbook has no written instruction regarding the role of a
signaller. Although there was evidence that the employer had issued
oral instructions at a "tailgate meeting", those
instructions were not sufficient.
This decision illustrates the importance of employers
ensuring that their safety manuals cover, with the appropriate
level of detail, the key safety issues for that employer's
workplace. In this case, signalling was obviously key in the
employer's business, but it was covered inadequately in the
safety manual. An inadequate safety manual can actually be used
against the employer at trial, rather than assist in establishing a
due diligence defence.
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