Originally published in the Employment and Labour Relations Bulletin - October 2005
The Government of Ontario appears committed to policing health and safety practices and enforcing the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and other employment–related statutes through prosecutions. With the costs of workplace injuries continuing to escalate, as evidenced by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s ever growing unfunded liabilities, the Government recently announced its goal of reducing Ontario workplace injuries by 20% by 2008. The mission seems clear: reduce injury costs and generate revenues to sustain the current system.
To reach its goals the Government has been recruiting health and safety inspectors to inspect Ontario workplaces and enforce OHSA. So far, 32 new health and safety inspectors have been appointed and more appointments are on the way. Up to 200 new health and safety will be hired.
Occupational Health And Safety Inspections
Under OHSA, Ontario workplaces are subject to routine, unannounced inspections. OHSA also grants health and safety inspectors broad powers, including the authority to enter workplaces any time without warrant or notice to inspect premises, test machinery and verify work practices and licenses. Anyone who hinders, obstructs or interferes with an inspector’s exercise of powers under the OHSA commits an offence and is subject to a significant fine or imprisonment.
An Oakville automobile repair owner recently learned this lesson the hard way when he prevented two health and safety inspectors from entering his repair shop to conduct a routine, unannounced inspection. The owner also verbally abused and intimidated the inspectors, contrary to OHSA. The Ministry of Labour prosecuted the owner and ultimately the Court sentenced him to seven days in jail and six months probation. The sentence will undoubtedly dissuade other employers from similar conduct.
A case involving a Barrie auto parts manufacturer further demonstrates the Government’s resolve in the area of occupational health and safety. The Barrie manufacturer was recently fined $50,000 (plus a 25% victim surcharge) for an OHSA violation that caused an employee to lose a finger in a press. The employee’s supervisor was also fined $4,000 (plus a 25% victim surcharge) for failing to ensure that the die press that caused the injury was properly guarded as the OHSA requires.
The arrival of several new health and safety inspectors means employers should expect more health and safety inspections. Keeping in mind the significant powers OHSA grants health and safety inspectors, employers concerned about their rights and obligations when health and safety inspectors arrive at their premises should immediately seek legal advice, particularly if an inspector starts questioning individuals where the possibility of a prosecution exists
Prosecutions Under The Employment Standards Act, 2000
Until recently, prosecutions under Ontario’s employment standards laws were rare. However, times have changed.
Recently, a business owner was fined $15,000 under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 for failing to pay wages to former employees. The Ministry had ordered the owner to pay the employees $3,127 in outstanding wages; however, when the owner failed to comply or appeal the decision, the owner was fined $15,000 – five times the amount he owed his former employees. In another case of unpaid wages, a private school was fined $142,000 for failing to pay 14 former employees their wages and one of the school’s directors was fined $17,000 and jailed for sixty days.
The message is clear: The Ministry is intent on policing and enforcing the laws. Employers, supervisors and directors failing to comply with their obligations risk prosecution, significant fines, and even imprisonment.
The foregoing provides only an overview. Readers are cautioned against making any decisions based on this material alone. Rather, a qualified lawyer should be consulted.
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