The Ontario government continues to enforce its zero-tolerance workplace safety inspections in certain sectors and in regions hardest hit by COVID-19. Businesses including warehouses, food processors, manufacturers, retail outlets and big-box stores will expect to be targeted by this enforcement effort.
Businesses already familiar with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act) are already aware of the number of health and safety obligations prescribed therein. These requirements include:
- instruct, inform and supervise workers to protect their health and safety
- take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a workers
- post a copy of the occupational health and safety policy in the workplace, where workers will be most likely to see it
- creating workplace health and safety policies and procedures
In the COVID-19 environment, employers must assess the workplace to determine what they need to do to protect the health and safety of their workers. This includes the requirement to take every reasonable precaution in the circumstance to protect the health and safety of workers, and do a risk assessment to determine what parts of the jobsite and what other workers the affected worker would have had contact with.
These inspections will focus on enforcing the COVID-19 safety requirements and violations may result in fines up to $750 for individuals and $1,000 for businesses. If a violation is more serious, a person can be charged with failing to comply with an order under the acts. If convicted, the court can impose fines as high as $100,000 for individuals, and directors and officers of a corporation can be fined up to $500,000. Both could also receive terms of imprisonment of up to one year. The maximum fine for a corporation on conviction of an offence is up to $10 million.
If an employer is advised that a worker has an occupational illness due to an exposure at the workplace or that a claim has been filed with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the employer must notify the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (Ministry) in writing within four days. The Act provides a worker with the right to refuse work that they believe is unsafe and we have seen the increase in complaints (many which are anonymous) against employers and an unsafe work environment.
We have had the opportunity to conduct several investigations into employer compliance with occupational health and safety requirements and have the following tips for employers who are facing an investigation:
- Act in a timely manner. Do not delay in conducting your investigation. Take the time to plan the investigation appropriately.
- Preserve evidence. Plan your investigation and review, early, the facts, the evidence to be preserved, and the witnesses.
- Review your policies and procedures. These documents may set out the investigative procedures that should be followed.
By Sean Gladney, Vice-President, The Investigators Group Inc.
For more information regarding workplace harassment investigations, you can contact Sean via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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