On July 1, 2022, the Working for Workers Act, which contains amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) within Ontario, went into effect. These amendments contain significantly harsher penalties for individuals and corporations who fail to keep workers safe, acting as a deterrent for negligence and providing increased incentive for officers and directors to prioritize safety in the workplace.
Prior to these changes, all individuals were subject to a maximum fine of $100,000 in the event of workplace safety violations. Since the implementation of the Working for Workers Act, a person who is convicted of an offence under the OHSA maybe subject to:
- A fine of up to $1,500,000 for directors and officers of corporations and/or up to 12 months imprisonment
- A fine of up to $500,000 for all other persons and/or up to 12 months imprisonment
- A fine of up to $1,500,000 for a corporation
These maximum fines apply per offence, meaning that individuals charged under the OHSA could potentially face monetary penalties in the multiple millions of dollars.
The Act also amends the OHSA’s sentencing provisions by inserting aggravating factors to be considered when a court is determining penalties to a workplace safety offence. These aggravating factors apply to both corporations and individuals, and are as follows:
- The offence resulted in the death, serious injury, or illness of one or more workers
- The defendant committed the offence recklessly
- The defendant disregarded an order made by an inspector
- The defendant was previously convicted of an offence under this Act or another Act
- The defendant has a record of prior non-compliance with this Act or the regulations
- The defendant lacks remorse
- There is an element of moral blameworthiness to the defendant’s conduct
- In committing the offence, the defendant was motivated by a desire to increase revenue or decrease costs
- After the commission of the offence, the defendant
- attempted to conceal the commission of the offence from the Ministry or other public authorities
- failed to cooperate with the Ministry or other authorities
- Any other circumstance that is prescribed to be an aggravating factor
These aggravating factors act as specific deterrents for unsafe workplace practices as they allow for potentially more severe penalties, should an individual or corporation violate the Act in any way which falls under the aggravating factors. The Act also allows for additional, unidentified aggravating factors to be created in the future.
As the Working for Workers Act went into effect on July 1, 2022, any offences committed prior to that date are not subject to the increased penalties set out in the Act.
There are simple steps that officers and directors of Ontario organizations can take in order to ensure that they are doing their personal due diligence in regard to workplace safety, which both prioritizes the safety of their employees and prevents any violations to the OHSA. Providing comprehensive health and safety training as mandated under the OHSA is an essential step in keeping all employees safe and preventing any workplace violations.
Consider implementing the following changes in operational behaviour:
- Make sure that senior officials, officers, and directors have knowledge of the corporation’s most fundamental health and safety obligations.
- Ensure that they have a copy of the current OHSA
- Ensure that they understand their safety responsibilities as an officer or director
- Ensure that they know the key regulatory requirements that apply to company operations
- Consider implementing a training course in obligations and documentation as they pertain to OHSA requirements and industry safety standards
- Execute a thorough review of corporate health and safety policies and programs
- Do they meet the regulatory requirements?
- Ensure that health and safety policies are scheduled for regular review
- Ensure that they include provisions for safe work, protective equipment, and OHSA-compliant procedures
- Establish a system for senior officials, officers, and directors to be quickly informed of significant health and safety issues or developments in the workplace
- Arrange for regular review of OHS updates and legislative requirements with summaries provided by safety officials
- Discuss new policies or procedures, safety aspects of any new equipment, systems for corporate training, systems for supervisor monitoring, review any worker OHS complaints, and discuss joint health and safety committee recommendations
- Ensure that any high risk or critical safety concerns trigger immediate workplace stoppages and are immediately reported to officers and directors
- Ensure that officers and directors adequately follow up on any health and safety or compliance issues which are brought to their attention
- All actions and communications regarding workplace health and safety should be clearly documented and kept for future reference, for both scheduled matters and unexpected events
- Comply with the OHSA to train Supervisors and employees on hazards in the workplace and maintain records of training. Training should be conducted annually.
The health and safety of employees is always a priority in the workplace, and even more so since the introduction of the Working for Workers Act earlier this year. For assistance in providing OHSA mandatory training, developing, or reviewing your workplace health and safety policy, or for any other consultation regarding workplace health and safety matters, contact us at HR Enable. We provide professional legal and HR consulting services to make sure that your organization is fully compliant and running smoothly.