January 2014: Ministry of Labour inspectors to focus on construction work in active workplaces
In January 2014, Ministry of Labour (MOL) inspectors from both the industrial and the construction program will visit industrial workplaces where there is an active construction project taking place. According to the MOL, the purpose of the initiative is to ensure industrial sector workers are not being exposed to hazards as a result of workplace construction activity.
Most employers think responsibility for worker health and safety on a workplace construction project belongs to the construction company or “constructor.” However, employers still have a responsibility to their own workers in terms of how they are affected by construction activity, whether it’s excessive noise, fumes, or other hazards. For example, if new equipment is being installed and employees are complaining about welding flashes and excessive fumes, then it’s up to the employer to be communicating with the constructor to ensure their workers are not being overexposed to fumes.
Joint responsibility of employer and constructor
Employers typically may believe they have no control over hazards generated by a construction project, but this is not the case. To prevent hazardous situations, the employer must be involved and communicating with the constructor to ensure the health and safety of workers.
As well, if constructors are aware of upcoming potentially hazardous situations taking place, they must advise the employer accordingly and take appropriate steps to protect all workers.
So, although the employer and the constructor are each responsible for the health and safety of their own workers, they need to be communicating throughout the project, discussing potential hazards and respecting each other’s boundaries. The need for clearly distinguishable boundaries is particularly important in industrial workplaces where workers may inadvertently take shortcuts through construction areas.
MOL inspection areas of focus
MOL inspectors will be looking at hazards which may affect both workers in the workplace and workers on the construction project. Hazards may include exposure to noise, asbestos, tripping, and other hazards that could cause occupational disease (i.e. dust, solvents, fumes), as well as hazards arising from poor access control to the construction project.
Inspectors will expect all potential hazards generated by construction activity to be properly controlled to protect workers both on and near the project. They also expect both the constructor and the employer to be working together to ensure the health and safety of their individual workers.
What the law says
Regardless of the size and cost of a construction project, the Occupational Health and Safety Act’s (OHSA) Regulations for Construction Projects is always applicable. Under the OHSA, a “constructor” is a person or company who oversees the construction of a project, and who is ultimately responsible for the health and safety of all workers, according to the MOL. The constructor must ensure that all the employers and workers on the project comply with the Act and regulations.
Legal duties of a constructor
A constructor has overall responsibility for worker health and safety on a project and must ensure:
- the measures and procedures prescribed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Regulations for Construction Projects are carried out on the project;
- every employer and every worker on the project complies with this act and the Regulations for Construction Projects;
- the health and safety of workers on the project is protected;
- a health and safety representative or a Joint Health and Safety Committee is selected as prescribed;
- the Ministry of Labour is notified of a project as prescribed;
- the Ministry of Labour is notified of an accident or occurrence as prescribed; and
- every contractor or subcontractor receives a list of all designated substances present at the project before the prospective contractor or subcontractor enters into a binding contract for the supply of work on the project.
Legal duties of employer
Aside from the duties of the constructor, the employer of the workplace with an active construction project is responsible for the health of the safety of their own workers who are not involved in the project, but may be working adjacent to the project and potentially exposed to hazards generated from the construction activity. Duties of an employer are listed in sections 25 and 26 of the OHSA.
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