Health & Safety Inspections
Workplace inspections help prevent injuries and identify to record hazards. Corrective actions should be taken to minimize the risk of injuries. Workplace inspections should be a very important part of every Occupational Health & Safety Program.
The purpose of inspections is to allow employers to listen to the concerns of workers and supervisors, gain an understanding of jobs and tasks, identify existing and potential hazards and determine the underlying causes of hazards and finally to recommend corrective action.
Depending on your company, inspections can be carried monthly, quarterly or as frequently as needed (recommended monthly). The frequency of planned formal inspections can be determined by past accident/incident records, number of shifts (as the activity of every shift may vary) and new processes or machinery. High risk areas should receive extra attention and should be inspected more frequently.
It is often recommended to conduct inspections as often as committee meetings but not to conduct an inspection immediately before a committee meeting. Try to separate inspections and meetings by at least one week as this will allow time for small items to be fixed and gives the committee an opportunity to focus on issues requiring further action.
Formal inspections should be carried out by a Health & Safety Representative/Committee Member and the employer, (or a member of management), especially if they have received training or certification. Other employees who should be part of the inspection team are those that are knowledgeable of regulations and procedures and may be aware of potential hazards and have experience with the work procedures involved.
The types of hazards to look for in an inspection will depend upon the type of environment, equipment and process used for your business. Some of the hazards to look for are:
- Safety Hazards: Inadequate machine guards, unsafe workplace conditions, unsafe work practices
- Biological Hazards: Caused by organisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites
- Chemical Hazards: Solid, liquid, vapour, gas, dust, fume or mist
- Ergonomic Hazards: Anatomical, physiological, and psychological demands on the worker, such as repetitive and forceful movements, vibration, temperature extremes, and awkward postures arising from improper work methods and improperly designed workstations, tools, and equipment
- Physical Hazards: Noise, vibration, energy, weather, heat, cold, electricity, radiation and pressure.
The information to include in an inspection report could be:
- Diagrams: Drawing of a plant layout or floor plans
- Equipment: Type of machinery or equipment used and a review of the technical safety data sheets
- Chemical: Determine which chemicals are used and whether material safety data sheets (MSDS’s) are available
- Checklists: Clarify responsibilities, controls of inspections. Once completed, it provides a written record of the inspection being carried out
- Reports: Inspection reports are important as past reports provide hazards identified and areas the inspection team concentrated on. Reports can also help to identify areas where hazards may have caused multiple injuries.
A report should include all unfinished items from the previous report with details of the hazard such as location and recommended method of control. Each hazard should also be assigned a priority level and a corrective date.
Finally, management must be made aware of the problems in a concise, factual way so that they can understand and evaluate the problems, assign priorities and quickly reach decisions.
Managing Employee Records
Employee information such as Social Security numbers, confidential health information, birth dates, even marital status is all information that should be protected.
Keeping comprehensive and thorough records is an important aspect of any business and knowing how to store and manage employee files is critical.
The following items are recommended to be included in an employee file (if applicable):
- Application or resume
- Offer letter
- Confidentiality/ non-compete agreement
- Handbook acknowledgement
- Background check consent form
- Performance records
- Training records
- Emergency Contact Information
Since Managers often have access to such files it is important to make sure that all protected information be removed or kept in a separate locked filing cabinet. Protected information could be color coded so that it may help to serve as a reminder that the information contained is confidential and access to the files limited.
Examples of protected information include:
- Paperwork from a leave such as the Family and Medical Leave Act
- Return to work letters from doctors, or any doctor’s letters
- Benefit enrollment papers
- Workers’ compensation information (with the exception of Functional Abilities Forms)
- Harassment allegations and findings of legal investigations
All employee files should be kept for a period of seven years.
Many employers are guilty of having incomplete files and it is advised that they should be audited periodically to ensure all pertinent information is on file and accurate.
Limiting access to files is very important and if not enforced, could open the door for legal action against the company. Information regarding an employee’s health should be accessible only to those who manage the files.
Mismanagement of confidential information can be a huge liability for any business. Time spent ensuring employee files are properly handled and stored is time well spent.
Employers Legal Obligations
Under the Occupational Health & Safety Act, employers are obligated by law to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. The Ministry of Labour enforces these regulations and has the authority for the following:
- Inspect: Ask any employee questions and review documents (Payroll and Training records; Inspect Records etc); Inspect equipment.
- Administer: Issue Orders for Compliance; Order Testing of Equipment
- Investigate: Workplace Accident/ Fatality; Where it is believed the OHSA has been contravened; Order a Work Stoppage; Investigate if a complaint is made against the employer
- Enforce: Issue Orders and Fines (note: can garnish fines thru the court); Order a business to be shut down if they believe the health & safety of worker(s) is at risk; Initiate Prosecution in extreme cases;
Employers can be fined heavily depending upon the severity of the violations. It is important to know, that in addition to employer penalties, Managers and Supervisors can be PERSONALLY fined and a company is not obligated to pay the fine on their behalf:
- Corporations – maximum $500,000.00 per violation
- Individuals maximum – $25,000.00 and or up to
- 12 months in jail: Bill C-45 (Criminal Code)
The follow link provides announcements of businesses that have been fined recently: http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/news/courtbulletins.php
In addition, under Bill C-45 owners and managers can be held criminally liable if they are found to be intentionally negligent of the health & safety of workers. Please click the following link to find out more information about Bill-C45: http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/legisl/billc45.html
The MOL also holds monthly blitzes to target specific industries and announces them in advance on their website: http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/sawo/blitzes/
As an employer, you are also obligated to comply with the Human Rights Code which prevents discriminations under the following prohibited grounds: Race, Religion, Disability, Age, Sex (includes pregnancy and childbirth), Marital/Family Status, Gender, Ethnic Origin, and Ancestry. Therefore it is important that policies and practices are put in place to prevent discrimination and avoid litigation costs should a complaint be made.
Furthermore, employers must be covered through WSIB (Workplace Safety Insurance Board) for work related injuries or accidents (there are a few exemptions). An employer’s premiums for this “no fault” insurance are based on their industry and history of work related accidents. To avoid increased premiums, employers, managers/supervisors must know how to manage claims from the day an injury occurs.
If you have any questions or would like to learn about more on how to protect your business from penalties or avoid violations, please feel free to contact us and we would be more than happy to answer any questions.
Bill 168: Violence In The Workplace
How It Impacts You As An Employer
Violence in the workplace is not a new phenomenon and occurs more frequently than one would imagine. Most employers cannot envision violence affecting their organization, yet the most recent statistics show that 17% of violent incidents occur in the workplace. There have been several high profile cases where tragedies have occurred. Lori Dupont, a 36-year-old nurse, was killed by her ex-boyfriend, Dr. Marc Daniel, in 2005 at Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor, Ontario where they both worked. Dr. Marc Daniel then took his own life.
Bill 168 stems from jury recommendations after a coroner’s inquest into the Lori Dupont case. The Act was introduced in April 2009 by the Government of Ontario to amend the OHSA.
A more recent case occurred in February 2010 when Larisa Belekova, a group home manager in Toronto, was stabbed to death by a resident with a bi-polar condition.
These are just some of the high profile cases. Briefly researching workplace violence on the internet will reveal a number of incidents posted. There are many more that may never be reported.
On June 15th, 2010 Bill 168 came into effect mandating all Ontario workplaces covered by the Occupational Health & Safety Act must comply to ensure that every reasonable precaution is taken to protect employees.
This affects all employers in Ontario regardless of the number of employees. The Ministry of Labour (MOL) has indicated an increase in health and safety audits for non-compliance that can carry substantial fines. The MOL has the authority to issue orders and liability fines of up to $25,000 per violation for non-compliance.
Prior to Bill 168, several cases reported to the MOL resulted in orders issued under the Occupational Health & Safety Act. In August 2009, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) was fined a total of $70,000 for violations under the OHSA after workers were assaulted in the workplace.
Let’s draw attention to 2 cases involving the CAMH. The 1st offense occurred on November 14, 2007 when a patient at CAMH assaulted 2 nurses at a nurse’s station in the Observation unit. Security arrived but was unable to access the unit without a key. One of the nurses was finally able to open the door from the inside while the patient was distracted, and only then was security able to subdue the patient. CAMH pleaded guilty for failing to ensure security personnel had access to the Observation unit in the event of an emergency, and was fined $35,000.
The 2nd offense occurred on September 17th, 2008. CAMH pleaded guilty and was again fined $35,000, this time for failing to provide written measures and procedures pertaining to the use of personal alarms. In this case a patient under constant supervision began molesting a nurse, forcing her towards the washroom. The nurse screamed, but no one heard. At the washroom door, the nurse managed to escape when the patient was startled by another patient. There was a personal alarm system installed in the building, but it was not usable in that unit, nor were there outlined instructions regarding its use.
In addition to the fines, the court imposed a 25% victim fine surcharge on the total as required by the Provincial Offences Act. Surcharges are credited to a special provincial government fund to assist victims of crime.
Again, the above are just 2 examples of fines imposed by the MOL under the OHSA before Bill 168 came into effect. As a precaution, employers should take note of liability risks in the event a violent situation occurs. Should they be found guilty under the new law more obligations are imposed.
Unfortunately, the law does not dictate specific steps to ensure compliance. Provided below are recommendations made by the Ministry of Labour:
Prior to any training, a risk assessment should be conducted to identify risks of violence in the workplace for each operating facility. Risk assessments should be conducted on an annual basis at minimum.
A workplace violence policy is mandatory for all organizations with more than 5 employees. A policy must be customized to the size, location, and nature of the business. It should be reviewed annually, and be posted in a conspicuous work space in each facility.
Prudent training includes all employees regardless of the size of the organization or the employee status (full-time; part-time or contractors) and all the above key elements in addition to a description of duties for employers, supervisors, and employees as per any other training under the OHSA.
Offenses & Penalties
The consequences for non-compliance remain the same as per the OHSA which states that any person who fails to comply with the OHSA can be liable to a fine of not more than $25,000 or imprisonment for a term not more than twelve (12) months or both.
A corporation if convicted of an offense can be imposed and liable for a maximum fine of $500,000 per violation.
It is important to know that these penalties are on a per violation basis, and the fines can be substantial when imposed for a number of offenses.
Overall, Bill 168 imposes new obligations on employers with an increased risk of financial liability should violence in the workplace occur without policies and practices implemented. Employee awareness through training is also important and increases the safety of workers, especially if strategies are implemented on how to respond to violent situations.
This is not taking into account the impact towards employee morale or pain and suffering that occurs for families and colleagues when tragedies occur, such as in the Lori Dupont case.
If you’re an employer still not in compliance with Bill 168, is it wise to continue compromising the safety of your employees and exposing yourself to financial risk?
Lastly, make sure to maintain copies of all reports for record keeping purposes