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Health and Safety at Work

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) is Ontario’s legislation that is intended to safeguard employees from health and safety risks while they are on the job.

Employers are required by Ontario’s OHSA to maintain working conditions that ensure workplace safety and adopt reasonable precautionary measures to protect employees from diseases or injury. Employers are mandated by law to provide hazard information, appropriate safety gear, adequate instruction, and capable supervision. Both the OHSA and the “In Case of Injury at Work” poster from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) must be displayed at the workplace. Furthermore, establishments handling specified substances or employing twenty or more personnel are required to establish a Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC). A health and safety representative is required in any workplace with six to nineteen employees.

What are the Objectives of the OHSA?

The OHSA aims to set out duties and rights for workplace parties (employers, supervisors, and workers) to create a strong Internal Responsibility System (IRS). It also stipulates measures and procedures to manage and mitigate workplace hazards and provides mechanisms for enforcement when people do not voluntarily comply.

What is the Internal Responsibility System (IRS)?

The IRS is essential in cultivating a safe and comfortable workplace. It outlines responsibilities for all workplace parties. Employees are obligated by law to report health and safety problems to their employer or supervisor. Employers and supervisors must address these issues and inform workers about any safety hazards or risks. A robust IRS supports a strong health and safety culture in the workplace, emphasizing the importance shared responsibility amongst all parties.

Who does the OHSA apply to?

The OHSA applies to the majority of workers, supervisors, employers, and workplaces in Ontario, including workplace owners, constructors, and suppliers of equipment or materials. Exceptions include certain farming operations, work done by owners or occupants in private residences, and federal jurisdiction workplaces such as post offices, airlines, and banks. Federal workplaces are governed by the Canada Labour Code, specifically Part II for health and safety.

How is the OHSA Enforced?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) in Ontario is enforced by the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) through various activities. Inspectors might conduct workplace inspections to ensure that they are complying with health and safety regulations. They are able to issue orders if they discover any breaches. Urgent incidents and health and safety complaints are thoroughly investigated. In severe non-compliance cases, inspectors could recommend legal prosecution. Sections 54 to 57 of the OHSA set out inspectors’ powers, and sections 23 to 32 outline workplace duties for various parties.

What kind of penalties might I face for violating the OHSA?

Individuals, directors, and officers can face a maximum of 12 months of imprisonment for non-compliance. Inspectors from the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development have the authority to issue orders to remedy violations, including Stop Work Orders that halt work until the adequate safety measures are implemented. Compliance Orders direct adherence to specific OHSA provisions, while Improvement Orders mandate specified improvements within a set timeframe. In cases of serious violations, the Ministry can prosecute offenders in Court, potentially leading to significant legal repercussions for individuals found guilty of such violations.

Understanding Workplace Investigations

What Types of OHSA Regulations are there?

The OHSA encompasses a number of different types of regulations. There are regulations specific to each sector, which applies to industries such as industrial establishments, construction projects, mines, as well as healthcare facilities. Hazardous work regulations are meant to address specific activities such as diving, window cleaning, and offshore oil and gas production.

Moreover, there are also health hazard regulations. These kinds of regulations are centred on issues such as asbestos, biological agents, X-ray safety, as well as noise. For example, construction noises that go above a specified safety limit might pose a health hazard that must be addressed accordingly.

Additionally, there are miscellaneous regulations which encompasses areas such as incident reporting, health and safety training, and joint health and safety committee exemptions. These different kinds of regulations as well as the IRS framework are intended to optimally ensure a safe working environment.

Many OHSA regulations require compliance with standards published by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), available online for various sectors.

What are some examples of Workplace Violations that might lead to Penalties?

Violating the OHSA can lead to significant penalties, as a way to ensure compliance with the OHSA and promoting a safe workplace. Examples include failure to provide proper training, which can result in substantial fines if employees are injured due to inadequate safety measures. Unsafe work conditions, such as exposed wiring or unguarded machinery, can lead to orders and fines from inspectors, with persistent issues possibly resulting in shutdowns. Inadequate safety equipment provision, like missing PPE, can result in fines and mandates for immediate corrective measures. General non-compliance, such as poor safety records or missed audits, may also result in penalties. These measures not only punish non-compliance but also encourage proactive safety measures, helping to foster a culture of accountability in Ontario

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Recent Cases

R. v. Greater Sudbury (City), 2023 SCC 28

This landmark case explored the responsibilities of an “owner” versus a “constructor” under the OHSA. The City of Greater Sudbury contracted a general contractor for a road repair project, during which a fatal accident had occurred. Initially, the City of Sudbury was acquitted of OHSA violations, asserting they were not the employer responsible for overseeing the work.

However, the Ontario Court of Appeal later ruled that the city was in fact considered to be an “employer” since it employed inspectors on-site, therefore bearing responsibilities for ensuring workplace safety. This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), confirming that owners can have overlapping duties under the OHSA, even if they do not directly employ the construction workers.

Here, the SCC confirmed that construction project owners can indeed be held liable as “employers” under the OHSA.

Ontario (Labour) v. New Mex Canada Inc., 2019 ONCA 30

This case involved two directors of a company who sent an epileptic employee to work on an elevated platform without fall protection. After the worker suffered a fatal fall, both directors were initially sentenced to jail. On appeal, the sentences were converted to fines, but the Court of Appeal emphasized that deterrence must be the primary consideration in OHSA sentencing. This case has set a precedent for more stringent penalties, including potential custodial sentences, especially in cases involving fatalities.

R. v. Roofing Medics Ltd., 2013 ONCJ 646

The roofing company Roofing Medics Ltd. faced charges under the OHSA after a worker, J.H., fatally fell from a roof in 2011. The company was found guilty of failing to ensure proper safety equipment and training, emphasizing the importance of fall protection. Roofing Medics was convicted for not having a fall arrest system and failing to notify the Director of the death within 48 hours. P.M., the owner, was guilty of failing to ensure workers used fall protection and providing false information to an inspector.

The Crown sought significant fines and jail time, while the defense proposed lower fines and no jail time for P.M. The judge considered mitigating factors such as the lack of prior offenses and recent training, alongside aggravating factors including the loss of life and the false statements made. P. M. was ultimately sentenced to 15 days in jail, served intermittently, and Roofing Medics was fined $50,000: $47,500 for the fall arrest offense and $2,500 for the notification failure.

This case shows how important it is for companies to comply with safety regulations and truthfully report and document safety incidents.

About the Author

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Jordan Donich

Jordan Donich has been a Lawyer for over 10 years and is a trusted legal analyst by Canadian Media. He is as a leader in Canada’s tech sector for lawyers and developer of Law Newbie. Jordan is a Black Belt with the Japan Karate Association and trained in Krav Maga. He won a Gold Medal at 2004 Canadian National Championships and was published in the National Newspaper Awards.

Jordan has been featured in Forbes and is a member of DMZ Angels in Toronto.