Is Your Facility Ready?
The Ontario Ministry of Labour ("MOL") launched its Safe At Work Ontario compliance strategy in June 2008. As its title suggests, its aim is to make workplaces safe. Over the years, it has evolved to include unannounced inspections of specific industry segments as part of the MOL's overall sector-based enforcement initiative. These inspections are known as 'Blitzes' and they work by MOL inspectors attending, unannounced, at workplaces to inspect for compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act ("OHSA"). If deficiencies are identified, the inspectors apply a zero tolerance policy and issue orders, or lay charges. Orders can include requiring the rectification of a deficiency and/or the stopping of work altogether. Charges can result in fines of up to $25,000 for individuals and up to $500,000 for companies, imprisonment (for individuals), and/or probation.
The MOL's latest blitz is underway. It started on January 18 and it will run through to February 26, 2016. It is focused on the safe operation of machinery at industrial facilities. The last time that the MOL ran a blitz focused on this industry segment was in 2014. During that blitz, 821 inspections were carried out and 3,669 orders were issued – 112 of which were stop work orders. To date, the MOL has yet to release any data with respect to how many charges were laid as a result of the blitz. That is likely because many continue to work their way through the court system.
What Inspectors Will Be Looking for on This Blitz
Industrial machinery can expose workers to significant hazards. For example, fingers, hands and limbs can get caught in exposed pinch points within the moving parts of machinery. If that happens, the injuries can be devastating. Similar injuries can result where workers are exposed to electrically energized parts of machinery or equipment.
The need to follow up on the hazards posed by these risks is demonstrated by the results of the last blitz that was conducted for this industry segment. In that blitz, 427 of the issued orders related to the guarding of pinch points, while another 568 of the issued orders related either to deficient maintenance of equipment/protective devices or to a general failure to take reasonable precautions that were necessary for the protection of workers.
Given that history, it ought to be anticipated that MOL inspectors will be focusing their efforts generally to ensure that industrial machinery is being operated safely and, specifically, that proper guarding and lockout procedures are in place.
At the same time, employers need to recognize that inspectors will also be identifying any other OHSA deficiencies they come across on their attendances – whether the deficiencies are related to the safe operation of machinery or not. Because of that, and because the inspections will be taking place in the industrial setting, inspectors will also likely be taking note to ensure that proper policies are in place, that appropriate fire prevention and protection measures have been taken, that materials are properly moved and stored, and that required protective equipment is being used.
This list is not exhaustive. For more information, reference should be made to the Regulation for Industrial Establishments (R.R.O. 1990, Regulation 851) under the OHSA.
Employers' & Supervisors' Obligations
Employers include those who directly hire others to perform work, as well as those who engage the services of a subcontractor. Supervisors are those who have charge of a workplace or authority over a worker. Supervisors can include direct front-line supervisors all the way up to executives who exercise operational control over an important part of the business.
Generally speaking, with regard to the current blitz, employers and supervisors must ensure that:
- workers receive appropriate information, instruction and supervision, such as training in lockout and guarding procedures;
- equipment is maintained in good condition by replacing and/or repairing damaged machine components;
- appropriate machine guards or other devices exist to protect workers when a moving part may endanger workers, or when a machine has an in-running pinch point;
- proper lockout/blocking procedures are in place for, and used when, (i) work is done on or near live exposed parts of installations, equipment or conductors; (ii) machines are cleaned, oiled, adjusted, repaired or maintained where the inrunning motion of those machines could endanger workers; and (iii) the starting of the machine could endanger a worker;
- workers comply with the OHSA and its regulations;
- workers use and wear required equipment, protective devices or clothing; and
- workers are advised of any potential or actual health and safety dangers.
Preparing Your Facility for the Inspector's Visit
You can help prepare for these inspections by taking the following five steps:
- Walk through your facility looking for any unguarded pinch points on machinery, any worn or damaged machinery, any unsafe storage of materials, and any other workplace hazards. If deficiencies are identified, they should be logged and rectified immediately.
- Check the maintenance schedules for machinery in the facility and make sure that all required and/or recommended maintenance has been done. As well, make sure that the associated records are indexed so that they can be recalled easily if needed.
- Assess the facility's procedures related to the use and locking out of machinery in the facility. Confirm they are OHSA compliant, and update/revise them if needed.
- Review training records to ensure that any workers who could be exposed to running machinery in your facility have been properly trained on its operation and lockout. If updated training is required, ensure that it is delivered promptly.
- Meet with your supervisors and determine whether there have been any worker conduct issues related to the operation of machinery, its lockout or near misses. Address any issues immediately. All disciplinary measures – from warnings through to dismissal – should be considered.
In addition, ensure that proper records are kept of each of these steps so that when an inspector knocks on the door, you can show him or her (if asked) that you have taken reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of your workers.
What to do if the Inspectors Knock at Your Door
If an inspector attends at your facility to perform an inspection, remember that they are there as part of an overall enforcement/prevention strategy and not to single out any particular business.
Under the OHSA, inspectors can exercise wide-ranging powers on an inspection, even without any violation being identified. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- the power to require the production of documents, to examine and copy documents, and even to remove documents from the workplace for copying;
- the authority to make inquiries of people in the workplace, and to require that machinery be set in motion; and
- the power to require that an employer, at the expense of the employer, have equipment, machinery or devices tested and reported on by a professional engineer.
As a result, in the normal course, you should cooperate with inspectors and provide them with whatever reasonable assistance they ask for.
At the same time, if you have concerns with requests that are being made on an inspection, or with any perceived jeopardy that your business may face either as a result of the way in which an inspection is being conducted or because of an issued order, contact legal counsel. Rights that are associated with inspections and/or orders may be subject to specific criteria and/or to strict timelines.
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.