In 2008, the Government of Ontario paired the Ministry of Labour
with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board with the aim of
promoting and ensuring workplace safety in the province. That
partnership produced the Safe at Work program.
Since its inception, the Safe at Work program has worked to
advance workplace safety through education, training, and
enforcement of existing statutes and regulations.
The Government's efforts at enforcement have taken the
particularly focused and effective route of monthly sector based
Hundreds of recently hired Ministry of Labour Inspectors are
inspecting job sites and workplaces throughout the province, often
unannounced. According to the Ministry, these Inspectors have been
instructed to apply a 'zero tolerance' policy to any
serious contraventions of the Occupational Health and Safety
Act or its 37 regulations.
Experience on the ground indicates that every infraction that is
capable of leading to a workplace injury, can and often will,
result in orders being issued under the Occupational Health and
Safety Act, or in charges being laid. There does not need to
be an injury or accident for there to be an offence.
As of November 2009, the Government's sector-based monthly
blitzes have targeted industrial and construction workplaces for
violations related to demolition and repair projects, electrical
installations, fall hazards, forklift operations, musculoskeletal
disorder, materials handling, chemical handling, vehicle body
repairs, hazards particular to young or new workers, and concrete
formwork. The inspection blitzes will be continuing throughout
Over the years, many Occupational Health and Safety Act
charges have been laid against businesses. Fines ranging from a few
hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars have been
levied against owners, constructors, employers, supervisors and
workers. In limited and extreme instances, jail sentences have even
From a business perspective, the potential exposure to liability
arising out of these blitzes is not limited to the Occupational
Health and Safety Act. Rather, the potential exposure also now
extends to liability under other regulatory regimes, because of the
operation of the Regulatory Modernization Act, 2007. That
Act allows every provincial offences officer who is lawfully
exercising his or her powers under an act, to record observations
that he or she makes that are likely to be relevant to another act,
and to communicate that information to the inspectors responsible
for administering the other acts. Arguably, Ministry of Labour
Inspectors who attend on blitz inspections are now also the eyes
and ears of the enforcement arms of all other regulatory agencies
in the province.
Going into 2010, businesses would be well advised to actively
assess potential risks and take precautions to protect worker and
workplace safety. Consider these five steps:
examine and review operations with the aim of identifying
safety risks, and then develop policies and procedures to address
train workers on the policies and procedures,
monitor worker practices to ensure that workers are complying
with the developed policies and procedures,
enforce the policies and procedures when necessary by
disciplining contraveners, and
start the process again.
By following these steps, businesses can mitigate, if not
altogether avoid, the consequences of regulatory risks inherent to
their operations, and send their workers home every day "safe
Cynthia R. C. Sefton represents a variety of
industries in the investigation and defence of claims related to
large disasters, including fires and explosions. Over the past 30
years she has assisted clients, including municipalities and public
utilities, with risk assessment and management issues, and with
issues related to product liability, construction projects, due
diligence, environmental liability, occupational health and safety,
employment law and contract issues.
David S. Reiter practice builds upon his eight
years of experience as a criminal defence trial lawyer and focuses
on the defence of individuals and companies charged with
quasi-criminal and regulatory offences. He has acted as lead
counsel in over 50 trials, and regularly assists a variety of
industry based clients including public utilities and
municipalities with riskassessment and risk-management issues.
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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