SAFETY OFFICERS ARE NOT OUT TO PUNISH YOU
By Brynna Leslie
Contrary to popular perception, provincial and territorial safety inspectors are not the workplace equivalent of parking ticket agents. On the contrary, their biggest concern is preventing lost-time injury and death in workplace accidents. And they want to do everything in their power to help you achieve safety standards. Inspectors don’t have quotas and they’re not out to get you, or even to surprise you.
In fact, within the last decade, the provinces of Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia have notified industry in advance of sector-specific inspection blitzes or “focused inspection campaigns,” as they’re known in Alberta.
“It’s not about catching people,” says Chappell at Ontario’s Ministry of Labour. “It’s about raising compliance, reducing hazards and making sure people don’t get hurt. We’ve found there’s been a substantial improvement in the number of lost-time injuries, and the number of workplace fatalities has certainly fallen since our first blitz in 1997.”
At the same time, Chappell points out that the reductions have not coincided with an increase in infractions. Simply raising awareness of compliance has encouraged employers to be more diligent.
SAFETY OFFICERS ARE REASONABLE
Typically, inspections take place because someone – often an industry insider – has reported some sort of safety malpractice to the provincial or territorial body that oversees OHS. Depending on the province, an officer can shut down a site or issue a stop work order. In Ontario, Nova Scotia and British Columbia (and soon in Alberta), officers can also issue tickets or administrative penalties.
“Officers have the ability to write a stop work order on the employer or the worker,” says Schouten at WorkSafeBC. “But they also look at the employer’s past record and the seriousness of the offence. They may issue a penalty in the form of a fine, but they may not.”
Officers are empowered to use the punitive tools at their disposal or not. Generally, much of it depends on your cooperation and compliance with the officer and with the law.
“For example, Internal Responsibility Systems (IRS) demonstrate an employer’s overarching attitude toward work safety,” explains Jim Leblanc, director of Occupational Health and Safety for Labour and Advanced Education, in Nova Scotia. “Inspectors have a lot of discretion in how they deal with an issue and a lot of that comes from what they believe about the employer, and whether the infraction was an oversight or a wilful disregard for safety.”
An inspector’s first concern when he comes into a workplace or onto a job site is to determine if the site appears safe, if the tools are in good repair and if the employees are properly trained and wearing the correct equipment. In circumstances where employers have put all mandatory measures in place to try and avoid oversights, it’s unlikely they will be fined as a result of one infraction. A stop work order may be required for a few hours – for example, to bring a tool up to standard – or a few days, but it doesn’t have to end in court.
OHS BODIES HAVE AN INTEREST IN EDUCATING YOU
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) is a federal body whose sole purpose is to educate workers on OHS issues. If you have questions about the Labour Code or where to find training, the CCOHS has a toll-free number and website designed to give you answers. They also offer training and e-learning courses to make it easier for people to fit proper workplace safety into their busy schedules.
At the provincial level, agencies have partnered with various industry associations to run seminars and publish materials that will make workers less fearful of these enforcement bodies. They don’t want to be seen as the safety police, but as a trusted partner in helping employers to workplace injury and fatality numbers.
“At the end of the day, for OHS, we firmly believe that every fatality and injury is preventable,” says Barrie Harrison, spokesperson for Alberta Occupational Health and Safety. “We don’t shy away from educating workers. We have actually worked a fair bit to make sure that everyone understands the government is a partner in creating safe work environments, along with industry, labour organizations and employers.”
Brynna Leslie is a freelance writer based in Ottawa and a regular contributor to Canadian Contractor.