How to prepare for Ministry of Labour health and safety inspections and initiatives
“Hi, I was just in the neighbourhood and thought I’d drop by.” Of course, it doesn’t happen quite like that, but what do you do when a Ministry of Labour (MOL) inspector comes knocking? Having recently announced the schedule of health and safety inspection initiatives for Ontario, this is the perfect time to consider what you might expect from a workplace inspection. New this year, the MOL schedule includes not only province-wide sector-specific enforcement plans, but smaller-scale provincial and regional enforcement initiatives as well.
Step-by-step guide to a workplace inspection visit
1. Company’s coming
Expect a visit any day – you never know! Just as ‘neighbourhood watch’ helps a community monitor its safety, the internal responsibility system (IRS) acts as a ‘workplace watch’ to help workers monitor health and safety behaviour and routines at work – you are your brother's and sister’s keeper! Similar to community police patrols, a workplace inspector’s role is to have a presence within the business community, and to ensure laws to protect worker health and safety are being respected.
2. Hello, my name is…
When an inspector arrives at your workplace, they will introduce themselves, show identification, and ask to speak with the most senior member of management available, as well as the workplace’s health and safety contact. The inspector will also ask for a worker safety representative. If they’re not available, the inspector may continue with a limited inspection or arrange a follow-up visit later that day or the following day.
3. Emotional intelligence
Take a few deep breaths and smile. It’s normal to feel a little nervous when someone shows up to inspect your workplace, but as long as you’re doing everything possible to ensure the health and safety of your workers and visitors, you have nothing to worry about. As with any business dealings, be professional, respectful, and courteous. Take a moment and put yourself in an inspector’s shoes. Based on a “realistic job preview” posted on their website, an MOL inspector may have to deal with “irate, distraught or hostile people,” and has “the option to withdraw from situations with potential physical violence.” It takes a special person to do this particular job.
4. Basic occupational health and safety checklist
Once senior management or the worker safety representative is available, the inspector will check that all legislated Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) documentation is in place, including the basics: written occupational health and safety policy, workplace violence and harassment policy, and health and safety awareness poster. These must be on display in an area accessible by all employees. As well, be ready to provide training documentation that shows workers and supervisors have been given health and safety information and instruction. Finally, the inspector may ask to see where the documents are posted and verify that a copy of the Act and its regulations is also displayed.
5. Guaranteed inspections
In some companies, workers have been left with no choice. Valid complaints to supervisors about health and safety issues have been ignored or met with threats of job loss. In these cases, workers call a provincial toll-free number. If the ministry receives a complaint call, similar to 911 responders, they are obligated to investigate – they will not, however, announce this to you.
6. How long does an inspection take?
Depending on the size of your workplace and the level of health and safety awareness and compliance evident, the inspection can take anywhere from half a day to more than one day.
7. Guided walkabout
The inspector will ask to speak to the worker occupational health and safety (OHS) representative at your workplace, and request they accompany them on a tour of the workplace.
8. Meet and greet
The inspector will walk through the workplace with your OHS representative, and stop to talk to workers and supervisors. To ensure you maintain a safe work environment, inspectors have the authority to speak to anyone, test and handle machinery, take photographs, and review any documentation in the workplace.
9. What are they looking for?
Inspectors look at everything from housekeeping and personal protective equipment to training and certification. Based on the MOL inspection blitz and initiatives schedule, the inspector may focus on a specific health and safety issue, such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), and ask how you’ve been working to improve ergonomics and safety in your workplace. The inspector will also pay special attention to the ministry’s strategic priority hazards: MSDs, falls, machine safety, and motor vehicle incidents – so you should, too!
10. The good, the bad and the ugly
The inspector may comment verbally on positive aspects and identify concerns; depending on the level of their concerns, they may issue a ‘stop work’ order that effectively shuts down an area until the health and safety hazard is addressed, a 'forthwith' order which means the issue must be corrected before they leave the workplace, or a 'compliance' order with a deadline to resolve the matter. If you don't agree with the order, you can appeal it.
11. Can we take your order?
After the inspector writes an order, employers may have a specific time period in which to comply and provide written proof of having done so. However, if a machine is not properly guarded to prevent worker injury, a ‘stop work’ order would be issued until the guard is fixed, or if additional training is recommended, the employer may be given an appropriate time period, 30 days for example, to complete the training.
11. Happy ending
Once the employer resolves health and safety issues and advises the MOL in writing, the inspection experience concludes.
12. Or is it?
If severe health and safety issues are discovered, the inspector may follow up with a return visit to ensure you’ve kept your promise to take every reasonable precaution to protect yourself and your workers from injury and illness.
Why do inspectors have to visit?
Not only do workplace inspections help ensure compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations, but that the workplace’s internal responsibility system (IRS) is working. Workplace safety culture, known as IRS, is one in which each and every individual – from owner and CEO to supervisors and workers – is responsible for health and safety on the job.
It’s well-known that workplace injuries and fatalities can usually be traced back to more than one root cause. And while those root causes may vary by sector, announced government inspection blitzes and initiatives help raise awareness and increase compliance with health and safety legislation. The government tracks each industry sector to determine if there are long-lasting increases in compliance and decreases in injuries.
How are workplaces chosen for inspection?
The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, so if inspectors have an issue with your workplace, you want to deal with it quickly and completely. The Ministry of Labour focuses mainly on workplaces with higher than average lost–time injury (LTI) rates and claim costs, however they have the ability to visit any workplace any time. If there is a disturbing trend developing, it will quickly become evident at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Based on these trends, the ministry identifies and inspects workplaces.
Workplace inspection criteria can include:
- Number and severity of injuries and associated costs
- Compliance history
- Hazards inherent to the work
- New businesses
- Size of businesses
- Specific events or incidents (e.g., critical injuries or fatal injuries, or injuries due to violence)
- Presence of new, young or other vulnerable workers.
When and where can I expect an MOL inspection?
Visit the Ontario Ministry of Labour website for a detailed listing of inspection blitzes, as well as provincial and regional initiatives. If you have any questions or concerns about workplace inspections and blitzes, there are provincial health and safety associations are available to offer consultation and training. For more information, contact your Workplace Safety North Health and Safety Specialist.
If you have a complaint, comments or questions
Small Business Health and Safety Checklist - Ministry of Labour and Service Ontario