Canadian Contractor

The home renovator's safety disconnect

Big commercial contractors, as you drive by their sites and see hundreds of men at work, eat, breathe and sleep safety compliance. It costs more. The giant firms in question can afford it. But you as an independent home improvement renovator are under the same legal liabilities for the safety of your workers.

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May 22, 2014 by Alec Caldwell

I was driving past a huge commercial construction site last week and thought, wow, these guys are undoubtedly heavy into safety compliance under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (as it’s called in Ontario) – or whatever they call it in your province.

Along with the planning process, building codes and more, the big construction firms have to factor in the cost of safety for their workers, sub trades and everyone else who comes onto their sites. This means the work usually takes a little longer, but everyone gets to go home at night to their families.

What about you, the independent renovation contractor? Your own business may look nothing like one of the big commercial builders. But the same safety risks are there. Imagine you’re working away at a homeowner’s residence, hired and paid directly by the homeowner. No mandatory WSIB will apply in your case, in Ontario, as long as you aren’t doing any commercial work. You are finishing your client’s basement, perhaps, a far cry for the commercial job site I just described, and the last thing on your mind is safety. Hey, you’ve been doing it for years and you’ve been safe, as nothing has ever happened to you or any sub trades you’ve hired. And perhaps everyone gave you their WSIB clearance. They are on their own as far as safety liability, right?

WRONG and this is where the disconnect comes in. Your are under the same rules, laws and regulations as the biggest commercial contractors. Yet important information about safety compliance, legal liability, etc., has never filtered down to you as an independent. As you brought other trades onto your job site, you left safety issues up to them.

I personally think that WSIB is a big part of the problem, in Ontario. When sub trades give you their clearance, you think they are independent and you are not responsible for them. But when they prove they are cleared with the WSIB, it doesn’t mean you are not responsible for their safety. It means ONLY that you are not responsible for their WSIB premiums!

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, policed by the Ministry of Labour (MoL) in Ontario, there is no such person as a self-employed sub trade. Everyone who comes onto your home renovation job site becomes your employee automatically under the MoL laws. You are responsible for them, if you are the general contractor, and if they bring a damaged ladder and fall off it, you face prosecution if you have not followed current safety laws.    

Failure to comply with safety regulations and to protect someone’s safety comes with a BIG price tag. Each offense carries up to a $25,000 fine and if you have incorporated your one man/person show, it goes up to $500,000 and everyone faces up to a year in jail.

When a individual fell off a ladder in Toronto last year, landing on a homeowner’s fence, the job site supervisor who transported him to hospital tried to cover his tracks by saying that it happened at the victim’s own home. The supervisor was found guilty of telling a lie under investigation by the MoL and found himself in jail for 14 days just before Christmas 2013.  He was still luckier than the worker who suffered the fall. He subsequently died of his injuries.

Something to think about.  For more information, see my article: Why was this roofer’s life worth so little?

CARAHS was founded as a non profit association to advocate and mentor independent self employed renovators and home services (Canadian Association of Renovators and Home Services)  

Members toll free hot line 1-866-366-2930 for issues on WSIB, Safety MOL,   reducing fines or job site closure to customer issues and more. Unlimited usage. 

CARAHS has over 120 online Health & Safety e-courses

Alec Caldwell

Alec Caldwell

Alec Caldwell is the Founder of CARAHS, a Health & Safety Organization. We are approved providers by the Ministry of Labour (Ontario) to teach Working at Heights Training (Pro#34609) Visit the Ministry of Labour's web site to view our listing
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12 Comments » for The home renovator's safety disconnect
  1. dave says:

    This sheds a different light on mandatory licensing. If we are not allowed to do the whole project ourselves and have to hire 10 -15 other trades in do do what one of us has in the past. the question would be why take on a project at all ? (I am a one man contractor I build start to finish everything on my own)

  2. Chris Langman says:

    Maybe the guy who fell off the ladder and died should be responsible for his own safety, he certainly paid the price for it.
    If each worker were responsible for their own safety (and livelyhood) after gaining enough experience in their profession workers may take safety more seriously.

  3. dave says:

    i agree if you read the article there were 4 people that had been using marijuna .
    will the new laws have a drug testing clause before you start and during the day to prevent accidents. People take short cuts and do things, they say after i knew better than do it but still i did it. having a license for safety will not stop any of this. just make you accountable for being stupid at that moment. And the fact that there is revenue to be made from people being careless. If you follow all the rules of safety you will have to hire one or more people to watch for carelessness on all job sites. I don’t know about you but the customer isn’t going to pay for that. All this will do is make more for the underground economy and take their chances with safety.

  4. Terry says:

    The part I dont like is if someone does something to hurt themself or someone else why the hell should I have to go to jail and loose my home!
    Underground is looking better every day !

  5. dave says:

    absolutely All they want is an escape goat so you can be held accountable . Its hard to hold the person accountable that is hurt, or dead. but if your in your car and do something to break the law thats different. why not on the job really no difference is there. You can refuse to put yourself in a position of danger where you may get hurt. The employer cannot fire you for working safe. There is no smart accidents , stupidity at that moment is in control . I don’t know why so many have trouble seeing that .

  6. Lynn says:

    I don’t see a way to email this article. Can you add Share Via Email to your links? I know someone who should read this.

    Thank you.

  7. Marten Burghgraef says:

    The way I see it. If a person is reasonably trained in safety he should be responsible for his own safety. This would be the responsibility of the employer. If you do something and hurt or kill yourself that sucks but to bad, no one else should be held responsible. If you do something and that causes someone else to get hurt then you should suffer big time, heavy fines more so then jail.

  8. dave says:

    I have a question for you although different from this post. In our local newspaper i read ; If you are not a registered member of the home builders association and registered with Tarion home warranty program You are an Illegal contractor. Building new homes. This is in cottage country! As a contractor we are getting f### all the way around. Will we even be able to take a piss without breaking the law .Could you guys try to get some understanding for us on this . We in the business have enough to pay for let alone belong to a click and pay more for the right to work . thanks

    • Robert Koci says:

      It often happens that those who like regulation will obfuscate regarding exactly what the regulation says. I am pretty sure you can build a home legally without being a member of Tarion, but I’ll find out for sure and reply to this post. I DO think you can still take a piss without breaking the law, but maybe I should check on THAT as well!!

  9. dave says:

    Thanks Robert

    Sorry about the piss comment a little over the top.It seems like this is the year to kill the trades people, Incentive to belong in my opinion is at an al time low.
    The paper is the Highlander / Illegal builds continue to affect industry: Bogach


  10. Paul Deschenes says:

    It sucks all the new rules coming out for safety I’m all for safe work place ! Hears the kicker though were is the reasonable access to training . The ministry created this new law for fall arrest but they failed to. Train enough people to train the people to the new standered they made it tougher for certified instructors to even teach the course let alone know what to teach. If the average home owner new what the mol expects of us they would ffeak . There needs to be some common sense in this system somewhere to many people making rules to force the little guy out of work