Find out how your company compares with step-by-step guide based on most recent Ministry of Labour inspection blitz results
Ontario is home to 390,000 employer businesses, and small firms with fewer than 100 employees make up about 98 per cent of the total. While the majority of Ontario employers are highly aware of the importance of training new and young workers and extremely conscientious about health and safety in the workplace, there is room for improvement as shown by the results of a recent Ministry of Labour (MOL) inspection blitz.
Last summer, from May 1 to August 31, 2013, inspectors visited more than 2,300 Ontario workplaces, and they focused especially on orientation, training and supervision. In terms of health and safety, inspectors checked to see if new and young workers were being given the required information, instruction, and training to protect their health and safety when starting a job, and that they were receiving adequate supervision.
Opportunity to influence safety mindset
“From what I’ve seen of Ontario businesses, successful organizations view the orientation and training of new and young workers as an opportunity,” says Dwayne Plamondon, Mining Director at Workplace Safety North (WSN). “It’s a chance to instil a strong safety mindset, which then continues to build and strengthen a company’s safety culture. Good supervisors understand that a solid introduction and emphasis on workplace health and safety has a direct effect on the company’s reputation, workplace morale, productivity, and bottom line. In that spirit, organizations can apply these inspection blitz results to their own operations and see how they measure up.”
In total, MOL inspectors issued 8,582 orders under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), and its regulations, including 201 stop work orders. Some of the workplaces were visited several times and, on average, approximately three orders were issued per workplace visit.
According to statistics from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), between 2006 and 2011, 39 young workers aged 15 to 24 died in work-related incidents; and, during the same period, more than 52,000 young workers received injuries severe enough to result in lost time from work. These are our sons and daughters, brother and sisters, neighbours and friends – and we need to take better care of them. By examining the results of the MOL inspection blitz focused on this vulnerable group, we can learn from the experience of others, and determine where we may need to improve our systems.
“These vulnerable workers are three times more likely to be injured during their first month on the job than any other time,” says Tom Welton, Industrial Director at WSN. “Which is why effective training, instruction, and close supervision is critical. Basic health and safety practices most experienced workers and supervisors see as commonplace, such as maintaining equipment in good condition and reporting hazards to supervision, may be overlooked or disregarded by these workers, raising the potential for injury."
Logically speaking, if these health and safety issues at a particular workplace are so prevalent for this vulnerable segment, what does that say about the health and safety of the average worker who’s been there for five or ten years?
Top 9 health and safety violations: How does your company compare?
1. Take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers.
What is “reasonable”? According to occupational health and safety expert Dr Peter Strahlendorf, it helps to imagine that a group of your colleagues are right there watching you – what would they think is the wise thing to do? From the provision of basic personal protective equipment to ensuring a tidy workplace and ergonomic work stations, “reasonable precautions” show that you’re aware of the workplace hazards and have addressed them appropriately. Read more about due diligence in Strahlendorf’s article: Doomed If You Don’t.
2. Maintain equipment in good condition.
This also speaks to the above point that you “take reasonable precautions” to protect workers. For example, faulty electrical equipment is the cause of many injuries each year, and yet this is easily preventable. Safety activities need to be workplace specific and focused on day-to-day work. According to the OHSA, “an employer shall ensure that the equipment, materials and protective devices provided by the employer are maintained in good condition.”
3. Post a copy of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the workplace.
Here’s a convenient list of the four items that must legally be posted in the workplace as well as other health and safety components that need to be in place. This is a basic, easy fix, and all the materials are available from the MOL free of charge, except the OHSA book, which costs $8 plus HST.
4. Prepare and review a health and safety policy and develop a program to implement that policy.
Without basic occupational health and safety policies and procedures, employers and workers are literally working without a safety net. There are many resources available that provide basic policy wording like this one from the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
5. Provide information, instruction and supervision to protect workers’ health and safety.
The fact that this is in the top nine is quite frightening – and it also explains why it is now the law that Ontario workers and supervisors must undergo mandatory health and safety awareness training – ensure your workplace is compliant. In addition to these new requirements, employers will continue to have ongoing duties under the OHSA to inform workers about workplace-specific hazards.
6. Have a workplace health and safety representative (HSR).
In workplaces where the number of workers regularly exceeds five, but less than 20 (when a joint health and safety committee would be required), employers must ensure that workers select a health and safety representative. This person needs to be committed to improving health and safety conditions. Who’s your safety champion? There have been amendments to the OHSA which have not yet been put into effect that relate to training requirements for health and safety representatives. Once these amendments become law, the employer will have to ensure the HSR receives training that enables them to effectively perform the duties of a health and safety representative.
7. Conduct workplace inspections.
Schedule regular inspection on the calendar, and make use of these handy resources and checklists from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Safety and Health. Make safety a day-to-day activity: praise workers doing it right and coach for improvements where necessary – regular reminders help raise awareness about health and safety and are part of a strong safety culture.
8. Assess workplace violence risk.
Workplace violence is a hazard that can occur in any type of workplace, so all employers have a general duty under OHSA to protect their workers. There are three parts to workplace violence assessment: (1) General physical environment; (2) Risk factor selection; and (3) Assessment for specific risks. The MOL has posted an assessment toolbox from the Occupational Health & Safety Council of Ontario. Contact your health and safety association for more information.
9. Have a workplace violence and harassment policy in place.
Are workers’ rights protected? This free, downloadable reference guide from the MOL includes a sample policy on workplace violence. The policy states, for example, that all workers are encouraged to raise any concerns about workplace violence and to report any violent incidents or threats; and that management pledges to investigate and deal with all incidents and complaints.
Additional orders issued under the Regulations for Industrial Establishments for violations involving:
1. Housekeeping (sections 11 to 20) refers to the business premises and the importance of keeping the work area free of obstructions, hazards, and accumulations of garbage, snow, or ice.
2. Fire safety (sections 22 to 23) includes storage of flammable liquids.
3. Machine guarding and lockout (sections 24 to 42) includes devices to protect workers from exposed moving parts of machinery, machine operator training, and other machinery-related safety laws.
4. Material handling (sections 44 to 66) refers to ergonomics, respiratory safety, and safety procedures for loading and unloading materials, including machinery like forklifts, cranes, and other mobile equipment.
5. Personal protective equipment regulations (sections 79 to 86) state the worker must be instructed and trained in the use of required protective personal equipment, such as head, eye, and foot protection; also a safety harness and lifeline if working at a height of three metres or more.
6. Industrial hygiene regulations (sections 124 to 139) speak to important safety processes regarding eye wash stations, ventilation, exposure to heat and noise, as well as biological, chemical, and physical agents.
7. WHMIS and Designated Substances: Orders were also issued under the Regulations for the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) and under the Regulations for Designated Substances. WHMIS violations involve worker exposure to and handling of hazardous materials – typically new and young workers are less familiar with WHMIS, and it’s the employer’s duty to make them aware of workplace hazards. Violations regarding designated substances are even more concerning as these substances include arsenic, asbestos, benzene, lead, mercury, among others. Again employer duties are clear here in taking every reasonable precaution to ensure the protection of workers.
Now with greater awareness of the top areas for improvement, along with links to great resource material, you’re well on your way to helping make your workplace safer – especially for those vulnerable new and young workers.
WSN YouTube channel video playlist: Workplace health and safety for young workers