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Are supervisors able to assess impairment? Drug driving decision suggests so

A recent Ontario decision suggests that laypersons - such as supervisors – may assess whether a person is impaired from drugs or alcohol, and their assessment will be considered in legal proceedings.

In a “drug driving” case, a driver was found guilty of driving while impaired by marijuana.   A police officer approached his vehicle and observed him as having bloodshot, glassy eyes and the smell of marijuana was coming from the vehicle.  The driver’s pupils were dilated. The driver admitted to having smoked a “J” approximately 2 1/2 hours earlier.  He was taken to a police station where another officer, a “drug recognition evaluator”, observed him and performed certain physical and other tests, and concluded that he was impaired.

The driver argued, on appeal, that the drug recognition evaluator should not have been accepted by the trial judge as an “expert” witness on drug recognition.  The appeal court disagreed, going on to state that the courts have had a long-accepted practice of admitting evidence of non-expert witnesses about whether a person was intoxicated or impaired.

Interestingly, a urine test came back negative for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that causes physical impairment, but the court still decided that based on the police officers’ observations and assessments, the driver was impaired when he was driving (even if he was no longer impaired when the urine sample was taken).

The appeal court referenced the Evaluation of Impaired Operation (Drugs and Alcohol) Regulations, which are used by police officers who are “certified drug recognition experts” to evaluate whether a driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol. Those Regulations set out a number of tests that those officers can perform to assess whether the person is impaired.

Supervisors often question whether they have the expertise to assess whether an employee is impaired. This decision suggests that supervisors’ observations are important and will be relevant evidence in legal proceedings, such as a wrongful dismissal action by an employee who was dismissed for being impaired at work.  Supervisors tasked with identifying impairment should, preferably, be given training and materials (such as a checklist) to help them in the task.

R. v. Henry, 2014 ONSC 4115 (CanLII)

Are supervisors able to assess impairment? Drug driving decision suggests so

Ontario Bill to extend protection of OHSA to unpaid trainees

A new Ontario Bill will give unpaid trainees the protection of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  The OHSA currently gives that protection to paid workers only.

The current definition of “worker” under the OHSA is “a person who performs work or supplies services for monetary compensation . . .”

Under Bill 18, the OHSA’s definition of “worker” will be expanded to include unpaid high school, college and university students in certain approved programs; as well as certain unpaid trainees receiving training for their own benefit and not for the benefit of the employer.  Bill 18 also allows the government to pass a regulation making other unpaid persons “workers” under the OHSA.

Practically, most employers will already apply their safety programs to unpaid trainees as if the OHSA already applied to them.  The main impact of the redefinition of “worker” will be that employers are now exposed to charges and fines if unpaid trainees – who, one suspects, have a higher than average risk of being injured – are in fact injured. This makes it all the more important that employers ensure that trainees receive all necessary safety training.

Bill 18 passed first reading on July 16, 2014.  Due to the Liberal majority, the Bill is expected to pass.  We do not yet know when the Bill will come into force.

Bill 18, which contains amendments to a number of other employment-related laws, may be accessed here.

Ontario Bill to extend protection of OHSA to unpaid trainees

Saskatchewan Introduces Ticketing System for Certain Workplace Safety Violations

As of July 1, 2014, Saskatchewan employers who violate certain occupational health and safety laws may be issued a Summary Offence Ticket, which carry fines ranging from $250 to $1,000, depending on the offence (plus victim surcharges).

According to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, these tickets are intended to avoid time-consuming and costly prosecutions, while serving as a deterrent to those who are non-compliant with occupational health and safety laws in Saskatchewan workplaces.

Two designated Occupational Health Officers will be issuing tickets for the 12 ticketable offences, which include failing to ensure that workers use personal protective equipment ($1,000); failing to ensure that workers use a fall protection system where a worker may fall three metres or more ($1,000); failing to submit a written progress report ($600); and failing to ensure that any opening or hole is covered and clearly marked or otherwise protected ($1,000).

It is likely that most tickets will be issued to employers, contractors, owners, self-employed persons and suppliers.  There is one offence that applies to workers: clear failure to use personal protective equipment that has been provided by the employer ($250). However, a worker will be ticketed only after the officer determines that the employer provided the worker with the correct PPE, adequately trained the worker on its use, and the worker disobeyed clear direction to use the PPE.

These safety tickets are like speeding tickets – they will typically be issued either on the spot or sent by mail after an officer has assessed the situation and facts on the ground.  Further, everyone who receives a ticket has the right to challenge it in court.

The government indicates that before issuing tickets, officers will assess the severity of the situation and will first try to use other tools, including Compliance Undertakings, Officer’s Reports, Notices of Contravention and Stop Work Orders.  Further, tickets will only be issued where all other avenues to ensure compliance with health and safety in the workplace have been exhausted or are ineffective.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety has prepared an overview of Summary Offence Ticketing.

Saskatchewan Introduces Ticketing System for Certain Workplace Safety Violations

Supreme Court denies chronic stress WCB claim after employee reacted to disciplinary letter

The Supreme Court of Canada has denied an employee’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits for “chronic stress” which he said resulted from a disciplinary letter that followed years of conflict over another workplace issue.

The employee, a park warden with Parks Canada, had for years argued that park wardens should be armed when carrying out law enforcement duties. He filed a health and safety complaint which generated internal complaint processes and a number of court cases and appeals.

Parks Canada received a request under access to information legislation and instructed the employee to disclose certain data on his work computer so that it could comply with the request. Parks Canada was not satisfied that he responded properly, so it gave him a letter notifying him that he would be disciplined if he did not provide an adequate response to the access to information request.

The employee already had a written reprimand on his file and feared that the next discipline would be dismissal. He claimed that the letter triggered a psychological condition that followed years of conflict over the health and safety issue. He filed a claim with the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board. The relevant Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board policy stated:

11. When does WCB accept claims for chronic onset stress?

As with any other claim, WCB investigates the causation to determine whether the claim is acceptable. Claims for this type of injury are eligible for compensation only when all of the following criteria are met:

• there is a confirmed psychological or psychiatric diagnosis . . .

• the work-related events or stressors are the predominant cause of the injury; . . .

• the work-related events are excessive or unusual in comparison to the normal pressures and tensions experienced by the average worker in a similar occupation, and

• there is objective confirmation of the events.

In addition to the duties reasonably expected by the nature of the worker’s occupation, normal pressures and tensions include, for example, interpersonal relations and conflicts, health and safety concerns, union issues, and routine labour relations actions taken by the employer, including workload and deadlines, work evaluation, performance management (discipline), transfers, changes in job duties, lay-offs, demotions, terminations, and reorganizations, to which all workers may be subject from time to time. [pp. 5-6]“

There was no dispute that the employee had met the first two criteria under the policy to receive WCB benefits for chronic stress: that there was a confirmed psychological or psychiatric diagnosis, and that the work-related events or stressors were the predominant cause of the injury. However, the employer disputed that (1) the work-related events were excessive or unusual in comparison to the normal pressures and tensions experienced by the average worker in a similar occupation, and (2) there was objective confirmation of the events.

The Supreme Court of Canada decided that it was open to the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board to find that the “predominant cause” of the employee’s psychological injury was his reaction to the letter, and that such request was not unusual in terms of normal pressures and tensions in a similar occupation. Therefore, the WCB’s decision to deny workers’ compensation benefits to the employee was reasonable.

Martin v. Alberta (Workers’ Compensation Board), 2014 SCC 25 (CanLII)

Supreme Court denies chronic stress WCB claim after employee reacted to disciplinary letter

Company fined $25,000 for operating electrical contracting business without license under Electricity Act after apprentice injured

An electrical contractor has been convicted and fined for carrying on an electrical contracting business without being licensed under the Ontario Electricity Act.

A young apprentice with the company was seriously injured after an electrical explosion.

The apprentice was disassembling and reassembling “conduit runs” under the supervision of “others who were his masters or supervisors”. He was “pulling a disconnect of a busbar” when it exploded.  There was a fire and molten metal fell on him.  He suffered lasting injuries.

The court found that the company operated an electrical contracting business without being the holder of an electrical contracting license pursuant to Regulation 570/05 (“Licensing of Electrical Contractors and Master Electricians”) under the Electricity Act.

The court accepted the prosecutor’s request for a $25,000 fine for failing to hold the contracting license.

This case shows that the mere failure to obtain an appropriate license can cost employers many thousands of dollars in fines where the employer carries out safety-sensitive work.

R. v. JF Industrial Systems (Windsor) Inc., 2013 ONCJ 766 (CanLII)

Company fined $25,000 for operating electrical contracting business without license under Electricity Act after apprentice injured

Supervisor who solicited and procured drugs from employee was fired for cause

The B.C. Court of Appeal has upheld the for-cause termination of a supervisor who used text messages to solicit and obtain drugs from an employee under his supervision.  Safety was one of the supervisor’s responsibilities in an industry described as “high risk” and “safety-sensitive”.

The supervisor was a project manager of a pile driving company.  The company fired the supervisor, alleging that he had misused a company gas credit card and a B.C. Ferries card, as well as failed to pay for a hotel bill.   After the termination, when the supervisor returned his company cell phone, the company found text messages from him soliciting drugs from an employee under his supervision.  The primary drugs were Dexedrine and clonazepam, both prescription medications which are “listed substances” under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The company relied on the text messages as “after-acquired cause” for dismissal.

The supervisor sued in court for wrongful dismissal. In written argument, he agreed that he had a senior and important role, that safety was a very important function at the company, and that he supervised safety.  He agreed that it was his role to set an example.  He admitted the possibility that he consumed illegal drugs with the employee.

The trial judge stated that it did not matter whether the supervisor’s solicitation happened at work or offsite.  Also, it did not matter that, as the supervisor alleged, others in the company smoked marijuana at a company party.  The trial judge decided that the company had just cause to fire the supervisor.

The B.C. Court of Appeal agreed, stating:

“Vancouver Pile Driving defended Mr. Van den Boogaard’s dismissal, alleging after-acquired cause. Mr. Van den Boogaard admitted he engaged in criminal conduct with a person over whom he had direct supervisory authority, including the ability to hire or fire. He had a high level of responsibility as a project manager on a worksite in one of the highest accident risk industries. He was responsible for site safety and effective execution of all projects under his control. He worked without supervision. He was responsible for the implementation of drug policies. He was expected to supervise his drug dealer in a safety sensitive workplace. He exhibited lack of judgment. As the trial judge found, ‘asking an employee under his supervision to procure illegal drugs is misconduct that goes to the root of the employment relation’. The employment relationship could not be restored in the circumstances.”

As this case illustrates, employers – particularly those in safety-sensitive industries – are entitled to hold their supervisors to high standards of safety. 

Van den Boogaard v. Vancouver Pile Driving Ltd., 2014 BCCA 168 (CanLII); trial decision available here.

Supervisor who solicited and procured drugs from employee was fired for cause

Canada Day deadline: Less than One Month to Complete Safety Awareness Training

Employers have less than one month to ensure that their workers and supervisors complete the mandatory “basic occupational health and safety awareness training” by July 1, 2014.

This training is mandatory for all workers and supervisors whose workplace is covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act, regardless of industry.

For many employers, the simplest way to comply is to have your workers and supervisors complete the Ministry of Labour’s free e-learning module, print the certificate of completion, and provide the certificate to you before July 1st.

Employers can also offer in-person training programs that are tailored to the specific requirements of their workplace, as long as the training meets the minimum content requirements set out in the regulation.  If employers are providing in-person training, it may be wise to have the presenter, throughout the presentation, refer employees to the corresponding material in the Ministry of Labour workbooks, in order to ensure that all of the required material is covered.

As mentioned in our February 25, 2014 article, a Ministry of Labour inspector has advised us that, immediately after July 1st, inspectors will likely issue a reminder to employers who have not conducted the training by the deadline.  Employers who continue to be non-compliant with the regulation will likely receive a compliance order, and in cases of ongoing failure, could be charged and fined.

If you require additional information on how to comply with this new regulation, see:

  • our February 25, 2014 article, which sets out “what you need to do” to comply with this new requirement;
  • our April 3, 2014 article, which provides various strategies for employers as to how to provide this training; and
  • our May 1, 2014 article, which discusses who has to take this training and how employers can continue to ensure that they are compliant with the training requirements after July 1, 2014.

We are available to assist employers with complying with this new obligation – by the Canada Day deadline.

Keep checking www.occupationalhealthandsafetylaw.com for further updates on this topic, or contact Adrian Miedema or Chelsea Rasmussen.

Canada Day deadline: Less than One Month to Complete Safety Awareness Training

Government OHSA advisors must be licenced paralegals, court decides

Employees of Ontario’s Office of the Worker Advisor and Officer of the Employer Advisor who provide legal services relating to the Occupational Health and Safety Act must be licensed paralegals, an Ontario judge has decided.

Since 2007, paralegals have been regulated by the Ontario Law Society Act.  A paralegal must not provide legal services unless licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada, which regulates lawyers and paralegals in Ontario.

The Law Society went to court asking for a declaration that government employees who provide legal services relating to the OHSA must be licensed paralegals.  The issue arose when the Office of the Worker Advisor (which provides certain legal services to non-unionized workers) and Office of the Employer Advisor (which provides legal services to smaller employers) started advising on safety-related reprisals after 2011 amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  The amendments permitted the OWA to educate, advise and provide representation before the Ontario Labour Relations Board to union-unionized workers who experienced reprisals from employers under the OHSA.  The Law Society had granted an exemption to the OWA and OEA to provide legal services in relation to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act but not the OHSA.

The OWA had posted two “Worker Representative” positions which required that the successful candidates hold a paralegal license from the Law Society.  The union, OPSEU, objected to that requirement and argued that the Worker Representatives need not be licensed paralegals, although they admitted that the OHSA services being provided by the Worker Representatives were “legal services” under the Law Society Act.  OPSEU, however, argued that the Law Society Act did not apply to the government and that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act exemption applied.

The court disagreed, holding that the Law Society Act applied to the government, and that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act exemption did not apply to OHSA advice.  That meant that the OWA and OEA employees who provided legal services on OHSA matters were required to be registered with the Law Society as paralegals.

In an age of increasing regulation of professional advisors, health and safety consultants who are not licensed paralegals should consider whether they are providing “legal services” and therefore need to obtain a paralegal license from the Law Society.

LSUC v. OPSEU et al., 2014 ONSC 270 (CanLII)

Government OHSA advisors must be licenced paralegals, court decides

Two months until July 1 safety awareness training deadline: will you be compliant?

The July 1, 2014 deadline is quickly approaching.  Employers in Ontario have two months to ensure that their workers and supervisors complete “basic occupational health and safety awareness training” before the deadline.

Our February 25, 2014 article set out “what you need to do” to comply with this new requirement.  Our April 3, 2014 article set out various strategies for employers as to how to provide this training.

In this article, we will provide updates and address a number of questions that have recently arisen, including who has to take this training and how employers can continue to ensure that they are compliant with the requirements of this Regulation even after their current workforce is trained.

Ministry of Labour Guide to Requirements for Basic Awareness Training

The Ministry of Labour has now released “A Guide to OHSA Requirements for Basic Awareness Training”.  It is fairly brief and worth reading.

Are directors and officers of a company or charity required to take the supervisor training?

The issue of whether directors and officers of a company or charity are considered supervisors is dependent on the particular facts of the situation.  If a director or officer has the responsibilities of a supervisor under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in an Ontario workplace (i.e. the person has charge of a workplace or authority over a worker in Ontario), the Ministry of Labour will likely expect the director or officer to complete the supervisor safety awareness training.  “Authority over a worker” includes, among other things, the ability to promote and discipline workers, schedule work and grant leaves of absence.  If the director or officer is not a “supervisor” under the OHSA, he or she is not required to take the training.

Are volunteers with a charity or not-for-profit organization required to take the training?

Under the OHSA, a worker is defined in part as “a person who performs work or supplies services for monetary compensation”.  As a result, a volunteer is not considered a worker and does not have to take the safety awareness training.  We recommend, however, that if a volunteer is doing work that involves any safety risks, you require him or her to take the safety awareness training.

Must employers verify that temporary employees sent to them by temporary employment agencies have completed safety awareness training?

Yes.  Where a worker is employed by a temporary employment agency and sent to another company to perform temporary work assignments, the temporary employment agency and the company both have safety duties under the OHSA.  While the temporary employment agency is required to provide the training, the company at which the temporary employee is working is required to confirm that the employee has received the training.

Update your checklists and agreements now

Hiring checklists and offer letters:
Ontario employers should update their hiring checklists and offer letters now.  Hiring checklists should include a requirement that a new worker or supervisor provide to the employer proof of having received the safety awareness training.  Going forward, employment offer letters / employment contracts should include a condition that a worker or supervisor has completed or will complete the appropriate safety awareness training.

Contractor and temporary employment agency agreements:
Employers should also include, in their standard-form contractor or temporary employment agency agreements, a requirement that the contractor or temporary employment agency not send to the employer any workers who have not completed the training, and that the contractor or temporary employment agency provide proof that its workers have received the training.  Employers must ensure they have an up-to-date record of safety awareness training for all workers and supervisors who perform work for the employer (which includes workers and supervisors from contractors and temporary employment agencies) in order to demonstrate compliance in the event the Ministry of Labour inspects the workplace.

Keep in mind employees who may require accommodation

Some employees with disabilities, language or literacy issues may require accommodation in order to complete their safety awareness training.  These employees may need additional time, or for the material to be read aloud or clarified.  Some may benefit from the opportunity to ask questions in a one-on-one environment.

The Ministry of Labour currently offers the worker and supervisor workbooks, and accompanying employer guides, in English, French, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Hindi, Punjabi, Portuguese, Spanish, and Urdu.  The Ministry of Labour’s e-learning modules are currently available in English and French; however, its website indicates that the e-learning modules will be available in the seven additional languages in Spring 2014.

Please let us know if you would like our assistance in complying with this Regulation, including with slides for face-to-face training and template “proof of completion” certificates for employers to use. 

Keep checking www.occupationalhealthandsafetylaw.com for further updates on this topic, or contact Adrian Miedema or Chelsea Rasmussen.

Two months until July 1 safety awareness training deadline: will you be compliant?

Three months until July 1 training deadline: Update on Ontario’s new safety awareness training requirement

Ontario employers have less than three months left to ensure that their workers and supervisors get “basic occupational health and safety awareness training” before the July 1, 2014 deadline.

Our February 25, 2014 article set out “what you need to do” to comply with this new requirement.

We have been considering various strategies for our clients as to how to provide this training, and have been in touch with the Ministry of Labour. Here are some updates and additional insights for employers to consider.

Can you combine the worker and supervisor training into one joint in-person session?

There is substantial overlap between the required content of the worker and supervisor training sessions.

If your company will be delivering the training face-to-face not using the Ministry’s online e-module, and is considering combining the worker and supervisor training into one session for all employees, ensure that the session covers all of the required content in the Regulation – but also covers the material from the perspective of both workers and supervisors.

The new Regulation refers to a basic occupational health and safety awareness training program for workers and a basic occupational health and safety awareness training for supervisors. A Ministry of Labour inspector could argue that “for” means “from the perspective of” or “tailored to”. So if, for instance, in a joint session you present only the supervisor’s perspective on a particular safety topic, an inspector might say that you have not complied with the Regulation’s requirement to provide the training “for” workers.

Although the required content for the worker and supervisor training overlap to some extent, you can see from the safety awareness training materials prepared by the Ministry of Labour (see our February 25th article for hyperlinks to those materials) that the Ministry approaches these topics quite differently for workers and supervisors. When delivering the safety awareness training, it is important to ensure that for each topic, workers and supervisors understand the distinction between their respective roles and responsibilities, even if the topic itself – such as “duties and rights of workers under the Act” – is required content in both the worker and supervisor training.

If you are going to combine the worker and supervisor sessions into one joint session, the safest approach is to ensure that any combined training session satisfies all of the criteria in the Regulation while articulating the different perspectives, roles and responsibilities of workers and supervisors. This will likely make the joint session longer than worker-only or supervisor-only sessions would be, possibly defeating the benefit of combining the worker and supervisor sessions.

Must supervisors also take the worker training?

There is some legal debate, based on the wording of the Regulation, as to whether supervisors who complete the supervisor training before July 1st must also complete the worker training. The debate centres around when the Regulation “came into force”, since part of the Regulation came into force on November 14, 2013 and the rest will come into force on July 1, 2014. A Ministry of Labour representative has recently advised us that the Ministry’s position is that July 1, 2014 is the applicable date.

Based on the Ministry’s position, a supervisor will be exempt from completing the worker training if:

(a) the supervisor was performing work as a supervisor for the employer prior to July 1, 2014; and

(b) the supervisor completed a basic occupational health and safety awareness training program for supervisors that contains the required supervisor contents, before July 1, 2014.

As a result, employers should ensure that all supervisors take the supervisor training before July 1st, because if they do, it appears that the Ministry of Labour will not require them to also take the worker training.

What about supervisors outside Ontario who supervise workers in Ontario?

Where your company has a supervisor outside Ontario – for instance, in Calgary – who supervises a worker in Ontario, the safe approach would be to have the Calgary supervisor complete Ontario’s basic safety awareness training for supervisors. Although, except in very limited circumstances, the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act does not apply to supervisors or workers working outside Ontario, a Ministry of Labour inspector could take the position that the OHSA does require an Ontario employer to ensure that any person supervising Ontario workers take the training – even if the supervisor is not located in Ontario.

Revising your contractor agreement

Ontario employers are required to ensure that contractors – who are “workers” under the OHSA – working for the employer have taken the worker safety awareness training. We are suggesting that companies revise their template contractor agreement to include a clause in which the contractor confirms that he or she has completed the training and that he or she will provide proof.

E-learning modules need specific web browsers

If you plan to have your workers and supervisors complete the training through the Ministry of Labour’s online e-learning modules, ensure that your company’s computers have at least Internet Explorer 9 or Chrome 17, or they won’t be able to access the modules.

Keep checking www.occupationalhealthandsafetylaw.com for further updates on this topic, or e-mail us at adrian.miedema@dentons.com or chelsea.rasmussen@dentons.com.

 

Three months until July 1 training deadline: Update on Ontario’s new safety awareness training requirement

Federal Health and Safety Officer’s File not Absolutely Privileged: Arbitrator

A federal Health and Safety Officer’s file was not absolutely privileged, and a labour arbitrator may order parts of it produced to parties in an arbitration, an arbitrator has decided.

A safety issue arose between the employer and two unionized employees. A federal Health and Safety Officer got involved and issued a Direction to the employer.  The union alleged that the employer had retaliated against the employees, contrary to the collective agreement. 

The employer subpoenad the federal Health and Safety Officer to testify at the arbitration hearing.  Human Resources and Skills Development Canada got involved, and the Health and Safety Officer was instructed not to produce his file.

HRSDC argued, before the arbitrator, that the Health and Safety Officer’s file was “absolutely privileged” because of sections 144(5) and 144(5.1) of the Canada Labour Code.  Those sections provide:

Information not to be published

144. (5) No person shall, except for the purposes of this Part or for the purposes of a prosecution under this Part, publish or disclose the results of an analysis, examination, testing, inquiry, investigation or sampling made or taken by or at the request of an appeals officer or a health and safety officer under section 141.

Personal  information

(5.1) If the results referred to in subsection (5) contain information within the meaning of Part 4 of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act, the disclosure of that information is governed by Part 4 of that Act.

The arbitrator concluded that the intent of section 144(5) was to “safeguard the integrity of HSO investigations”, but that section does not refer to “privilege”. Instead, that section placed ”limited prohibition on publication and disclosure”.  Section 144(5) was a confidentiality provision, not a privilege provision. Unlike privileged information, confidential information may be subject to production in litigation.  Also, in the arbitrator’s opinion, the confidentiality created by that provision expires once the Health and Safety Officer has provided the “results” to the parties.

As such, the arbitrator denied HRSDC’s objection to the production of the Health and Safety Officer’s file.  The arbitrator ordered that the hearing resume in camera for the purpose of considering “ways and means of dealing with any privileged personal information contained in the HRSDC file.”

The decision may be accessed here.

Federal Health and Safety Officer’s File not Absolutely Privileged: Arbitrator

Failed to Register with WSIB? New “Voluntary Registration” Policy may Provide Mercy

Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has issued a new policy showing when the WSIB will punish – or show mercy to – employers that are required to register with the WSIB but have not done so.

The new policy took effect on February 1st, 2014.  Not all Ontario employers are required to register with the WSIB.

The policy provides that where an employer is legally-required to register with WSIB but has not done so, while remaining undiscovered by the WSIB, if the employer voluntarily contacts the WSIB and discloses the non-compliance, the WSIB may (note – not “will”) waive penalties, refrain from laying charges, and not require payment of retroactive WSIB premiums prior to the “effective date of registration” (which is considered to be the later of the date of the employer’s first hire or 12 months prior to the month in which the employer made voluntary disclosure to the WSIB).

The policy states that the WSIB will, however, not show mercy on employers who have been “identified” to the WSIB prior to the employer’s voluntary disclosure – whether by the WSIB’s own “proactive registration activities”, or by anonymous calls to the WSIB’s ominous-sounding “Action Line”.

The moral of the story is that employers that may be required to register with the WSIB and have not done so, should strongly consider contacting the WSIB voluntarily in order to obtain the benefit of the Voluntary Registration policy, and hopefully avoid significant retroactive premiums and penalties.

The Voluntary Registration Policy may be found here.

Failed to Register with WSIB? New “Voluntary Registration” Policy may Provide Mercy

Company Director Fined $8,500 After Swearing at MOL Safety Inspector, Making Threatening Gestures and Telling Inspector to Leave Project

Corporate directors can be charged by the Ontario Ministry of Labour and fined under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Threatening and swearing at a Ministry of Labour inspector certainly increases the odds of charges being laid.

A Ministry of Labour inspector visited a construction project where Starland Contracting Ltd. had been hired to build a self-service car wash.  The inspector saw a worker on the roof without fall protection or a hard hat.

A few months later, the inspector made a follow-up visit.  The company’s director was on site and was acting as supervisor.  According to the Ministry of Labour press release, the inspector went to speak with the director, who uttered profanities at the inspector, told the inspector to leave the project, and made threatening gestures and comments towards the inspector.  The director refused to show identification when asked.

The next day, another Ministry of Labour inspector went to the site.  Starland was unable to show a Notice of Project Form or a Form 1000, which lists all employers and subcontractors on site.  That inspector issued an order for those documents, but they were not provided by the deadline in the order.

Starland and the director were charged by the Ministry of Labour under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  After an ex-parte trial (meaning that the company and the director did not attend at the trial), the company was convicted of three offences under the OHSA and fined $29,500.00, and the director was convicted of two offences (hindering, obstructing, molesting and interfering with an inspector; and refusing to provide information requested by an inspector) and fined $8,500.00.

The Ministry of Labour’s press release may be found here.

Company Director Fined $8,500 After Swearing at MOL Safety Inspector, Making Threatening Gestures and Telling Inspector to Leave Project

Previous Environmental Convictions Considered in Jailing of Supervisor for OHSA Offences: Court’s Reasons now Available

A supervisor’s previous violations of the Environmental Protection Act, and failure to pay more than $50,000 in fines for those violations, were a factor in the court’s decision to send her to jail for Occupational Health and Safety Act violations, the court’s reasons show.

In our post on March 11th, we wrote that the court jailed a supervisor for 45 days for violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. 

The Ministry of Labour prosecutor, in the supervisor’s sentencing hearing for the OHSA violations, provided proof that the supervisor had previously been convicted of 6 offences under the Environmental Protection Act, including submitting false or misleading information to the Ministry of Environment.  She had previously been jailed for EPA offences, and had more than $50,000 in unpaid fines.

A rather obscure but important Ontario statute, the Regulatory Modernization Act, 2007, permits the court to consider previous convictions under another Act when deciding what fine, or length of prison term, a person should receive for violation of a regulatory statute such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The court stated:

“Given her troubling history with lack of compliance with prior court prior orders, the evidence before me that her convictions stem from her ongoing work in the trash removal business where she continues to flout various regulatory standards, and her lack of expression of any remorse for an accident that left a young man permanently paralyzed and fraught with pain, I accept the Crown’s submission that only a term of imprisonment would fulfill the sentencing goal of deterrence, both general and specific.  It would also further the sentencing goal of denunciation, given her pattern of behaviour. Regrettably, I do not foresee any hope of rehabilitation of Ms. Lootawan, given her antecedents.”

This case demonstrates that a supervisor’s entire regulatory conviction history – including convictions under statutes other than the Occupational Health and Safety Act - can be given significant weight when a court decides the supervisor’s sentence for OHSA violations.  A history of violations of the law can, in extreme cases such as this one, land a supervisor in jail.

The court’s reasons are available here.

Previous Environmental Convictions Considered in Jailing of Supervisor for OHSA Offences: Court’s Reasons now Available

$20,000 Fine After HR Staff, Supervisor Fail to Immediately Report Injury to MOL

An Ontario employer has been fined $20,000 for failing to report an injury to the Ministry of Labour, showing that employers need to educate their managers about the types of injuries that must be reported under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

A worker was injured when a loaded skid tipped and his leg became trapped under parts.  He suffered a broken bone which is a “critical injury” under the OHSA.  The OHSA requires employers to immediately report critical injuries to the Ministry of Labour.  The employee told his supervisor and, later, human resources staff that he had broken his leg.

Four days after the accident, the Ministry of Labour contacted the company about the accident.  The human resources staff said that the company was in the process of reporting to the Ministry of Labour.

The company pleaded guilty to failing to immediately report this critical injury to the MOL, contrary to section 51(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  The court imposed a $20,000 fine plus the 25% “victim fine surcharge”, for a total of $25,000.

It is not always obvious what types of injuries are “critical injuries” under the OHSA.  Employers should educate their managers and, where there is any doubt, obtain legal advice.

The Ministry of Labour’s press release may be accessed here.

$20,000 Fine After HR Staff, Supervisor Fail to Immediately Report Injury to MOL

Class Action Proceeds Against MOL for “Negligent Inspection”

In a case that will be closely watched, an Ontario judge has permitted a class action lawsuit against the Ministry of Labour for “negligent inspection” of a workplace.

The case arises from the collapse of the roof-top parking deck at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, in which two people were killed and many more injured.

The class action was brought by owners of one of the restaurants in the mall, which was one of the businesses affected by the collapse.  The “class” of claimants included people in the mall at the time of the collapse, business tenants and employees working at the mall. 

The plaintiffs argued that Ministry of Labour inspectors had performed more than 130 inspections at the Mall over approximately 30 years, and had received numerous complaints about the condition of the mall and the dangers of water leakage problems.  The plaintiffs claimed that Ministry of Labour inspectors should have followed up with reasonable investigations and in failing to do so, they were negligent.  

The court stated:

“A government body such as the Ministry of Labour that exercises statutory power to conduct safety inspections owes a duty of care to all who may be injured as a result of a negligent inspection. Thus, for example, once the decision to inspect has been made, the court may review the scheme of inspection to ensure it is reasonable and has been reasonably carried out in light of all the circumstances, including the availability of funds, to determine whether the government agency has met the requisite standard of care.”

Although the Occupational Health and Safety Act provides limited liability-protection to Ministry of Labour employees, including inspectors, it expressly provides in section 65(2) that the Ministry of Labour itself may be held liable for acts of inspectors.

The judge therefore decided that the class action for “negligent inspection” could proceed against the Ministry of Labour.  It should be noted that the court has not yet found the Ministry of Labour liable, but simply said that the class action may proceed.

There are numerous other defendants in the class action, a group described by the court as “everyone involved in the planning, construction, inspection, ownership and maintenance of the shopping centre over the years”. That group includes the mall, the owners of the mall, the City of Elliot Lake, and a number of architects and engineers,

 Quinte v. Eastwood Mall, 2014 ONSC 249

Class Action Proceeds Against MOL for “Negligent Inspection”

July 1, 2014 Deadline to Comply with Ontario’s New Safety Awareness Training Requirements. Here is What you Need to Do

The clock is ticking.  All Ontario employers must provide their workers and supervisors with “basic occupational health and safety awareness training” by July 1st, 2014 or they will be in violation of a new regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  And employers’ in-house safety awareness training provided to workers in the past will likely not meet the new requirements.

This is an “if you do nothing, you will be in violation” regulation.

Who Must be Trained?

All workers and supervisors must be trained – even workers in jobs that are not considered hazardous. 

There are two types of safety awareness training: worker training and supervisor training, and the government dictates the contents of both.

What About Contractors?

The definition of “worker” under the Occupational Health and Safety Act can include contractors working for the employer.  Companies using contractors need to ensure that the contractors have received the safety awareness training.  Companies should consider revising their contractor agreement to include a clause requiring the contractor to ensure that all of the contractor’s employees who are supplied to the company have completed the safety awareness training.

Obligation is on Employer, not Employee

Every Ontario employer must ensure that their workers and supervisors complete the safety awareness training. The obligation is on the employer, not the employees.

What if the Employer Already Provided Safety Orientation?

If your company already provided safety awareness training to employees, you are not required to provide the new mandatory safety awareness program – as long as your training program includes all of the content required by the Ministry of Labour.  I expect that most employers will want to put all of their employees and supervisors through the new mandatory orientation, using the Ministry of Labour’s training materials, in order to avoid an argument down the road that the employer’s training program did not cover all of the required topics.  In particular, the new regulation requires that the worker and supervisor training cover “roles of the ministry, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), and Health and Safety Associations”, but those roles have recently changed, so one expects that most employers will not have covered that topic properly – if at all – in their existing in-house safety awareness program.

Deadline for New Employees, Supervisors

The deadline for providing the safety awareness training to current employees is July 1, 2014.  But for new employees hired after July 1, 2014, the deadline is “as soon as practicable” after they start working. For supervisors appointed to a supervisory position after July 1, 2014, the deadline is one week after starting to perform work as a supervisor.

How can the Training be Provided?

The training can be provided using the Ministry of Labour’s online “e-learning” modules, or by face-to-face sessions (group or individual) with employees.

Workbooks and E-Learning Tool

The Ministry of Labour makes a number of resources available to employers:

  • “Worker Health and Safety Awareness in 4 Steps” (worker workbook, 24 pages) is available here
  • “An Employer Guide to Worker Health and Safety Awareness in 4 Steps” (2 pages) is available here
  • “Supervisor Health and Safety Awareness in 5 Steps” (supervisor workbook, 32 pages) is available here
  • “An Employer Guide to Supervisor Health and Safety Awareness in 5 Steps” (2 pages) is available here
  • The e-learning training module for workers (45-60 minutes) is available here
  • The e-learning training module for supervisors (45-60 minutes) is available here 

The e-learning training includes a few short videos, and a number of quiz questions.

Employers May use Own Equivalent Materials

Employers may opt to use their own training materials, instead of the MOL’s materials. However, the training program for workers must include instruction on the following topics:

  • the duties and rights of workers under OHSA;
  • the duties of employers and supervisors under OHSA;
  • common workplace hazards and occupational illnesses;
  • the role of joint health and safety committees (JHSCs) and of health and safety representatives under OHSA;
  • roles of the ministry, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), and Health and Safety Associations; and
  • information and instruction requirements set out in the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) Regulation.

If employers use their own supervisor safety orientation program, the training program must include instruction on the following topics:

 

  • the duties and rights of workers under OHSA;
  • the duties of employers and supervisors under OHSA;
  • how to identify, assess and manage workplace hazards, the role of joint health and safety committees (JHSCs), and of health and safety representatives under OHSA;
  • roles of the ministry, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), and Health and Safety Associations; and
  • sources of information on occupational health and safety.

How Much Time does the Training Take?

The Ministry of Labour says that the worker and supervisor e-learning modules each take 45 to 60 minutes to complete.

Face-to-face sessions held by the employer can take as long as the employer wishes, but must cover all of the required material.

How Long is the Training Valid?

The training is valid for the employee’s working career. However, employers have an ongoing obligation, irrespective of this new safety awareness training requirement, to ensure that employees are properly trained at all times to do their job.

Maintaining a Record of Training

Employers must maintain a record of the training that is completed by workers and supervisors.  If the training is completed using the MOL’s e-learning training module, an employee will receive a certificate that is valid for the remainder of his or her career.

The employer must keep proof of the training for up to six months after the worker or supervisor stops performing work for the employer.

Exemptions

In the following two situations, workers or supervisors will not be required to complete the new worker safety awareness training:

  1. If a worker or supervisor has previously completed a worker safety awareness training program with a current or former employer that includes the required topics for worker safety awareness training listed above, he or she does not have to take the training again if he or she can provide proof of the training.
  2. A supervisor will not have to complete the worker training if:
    (a) the supervisor was performing work as a supervisor for the employer “prior to the Regulation coming into force”; and
    (b) the supervisor completed a basic occupational health and safety awareness training program for supervisors that contains the required contents listed above, “prior to the Regulation coming into force”.

Unfortunately there has been some legal debate and confusion as to whether the date of the “Regulation coming into force”, for the purposes of the above exemption, is November 14, 2013 or July 1, 2014, since parts of the Regulation came into force on each of those dates. The Ministry of Labour has recently advised us that, in its view, the date is July 1, 2014. That appears to mean that where a supervisor was working as a supervisor with the employer prior to July 1, 2014, and completed the supervisor safety awareness training program prior to July 1, 2014, the Ministry of Labour inspectors will not also require that the supervisor complete the worker safety awareness training program. After July 1st, however, that exemption will not be available.

If a supervisor has previously completed a supervisor safety awareness training program with a current or former employer that satisfies the required topics for supervisor training listed above, he or she will not have to take the supervisor awareness training again if he or she can provide proof of the training.

What Should Employers Do?

All Ontario employers should put a plan in place for ensuring that all workers complete the worker training, and all supervisors complete the supervisor training, by July 1st.  For office workers, the online e-learning module may be best. For others, the employer should consider holding face-to-face group training sessions with employees.

Here are some steps employers could take to work towards completing the training:

  1. Make a list of workers (not just “employees”)
  2. Make a list of supervisors
  3. Determine whether each worker and supervisor already received equivalent worker or supervisor safety awareness training (likely not)
  4. Plan how training will be done (e-learning or face-to-face sessions)
  5. Print paper copies of MOL materials for face-to-face sessions (if training provided face-to-face)
  6. For face-to-face sessions, gather other suggested materials, such as employer safety policies and procedures (see Ministry of Labour’s employer guides, linked above)
  7. Plan when training will be done: regular work day or on employee’s own time?
  8. Schedule training
  9. Set deadline for completing: May 31?
  10. Develop tracking / reminder system
  11. Decide who will keep training records and where

Consequences of Missing the Deadline

A Ministry of Labour inspector recently told me that, immediately after July 1st, inspectors will likely issue a reminder to employers who have not conducted the training by the July 1st deadline.  However, employers who still fail to complete the training will likely receive a compliance order, and in cases of ongoing failure, could be charged and fined.

Non-Compliance may be “Red Flag” to MOL Inspector

Just like failing to post all of the required health and safety materials on your bulletin board (see our article on posting requirements here), a failure to ensure that your workers and supervisors received the safety awareness training by July 1st may be a “red flag” for inspectors that your company is not on top of its safety obligations. Keep a file with all of the completion certificates handy, so you can quickly show the MOL inspector that all employees have been trained.

This Seems Complicated. What is the Simplest Way to Comply?

For many employers, the simplest way to comply is to send all employees and supervisors an e-mail with a link to the MOL modules and require them to complete the e-learning module, print off the completion certificate, and provide the certificate to you before July 1st.

The new regulation, which sets out the mandatory safety awareness training requirement, can be accessed here.

July 1, 2014 Deadline to Comply with Ontario’s New Safety Awareness Training Requirements. Here is What you Need to Do

Real Estate Project Management Firm Fined $100,000 in Workplace Fatality

The death of one of its subcontractor’s employees has resulted in a $100,000 fine to a real estate project management firm.

Four workers of the subcontractor were demolishing an interior concrete block wall which was 26 feet high.  The wall collapsed on two workers.  The collapse was captured on video.  One of the workers died, and the other suffered severe injuries.

A Ministry of Labour investigation found that an inadequate demolition procedure was used.  The project management firm pleaded guilty, as a constructor, to two counts of failing to ensure that the health and safety of workers was protected.  The total fine was $100,000.

This case demonstrates how project management firms can be the “constructor” under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, thereby taking on responsibility for all workers on the project – not only the project management firm’s own employees.

The Ministry of Labour’s press release may be accessed here.

 

Real Estate Project Management Firm Fined $100,000 in Workplace Fatality

$110,000 Fine Shows it’s Cheaper to Comply with Orders than Disregard Them

I recently wrote about the cost of failing to report accidents or occupational disease claims to the Ministry of Labour. The cost of failing to comply with an inspector’s orders can be even higher.

Harbour Sports Grille in Toronto received a number of orders from a Ministry of Labour inspector over a period of 6 months.  The company failed to comply with 13 of those orders.  The orders dealt with a number of issues including failing to set up a joint health and safety committee and failing to have required policies and programs (such as harassment and workplace violence) in place.  The Ministry of Labour charged the company under the Occupational Health and Safety Act with failing to comply with those 13 orders.

The company fought the charges and lost.  The presiding justice of the peace imposed a fine of $110,000.00.  One suspects that it would have been cheaper to comply with the orders.

The Ministry of Labour’s press release can be read here.

 

$110,000 Fine Shows it’s Cheaper to Comply with Orders than Disregard Them

OLRB has no authority to order government investigation of safety-reprisal complaint

The Ontario Labour Relations Board has held that it has no authority to order the Ontario Ministry of Labour to conduct an investigation into an employee’s safety-reprisal complaint, nor could the OLRB base its decision on the results of any such investigation.

The employee, in his safety-reprisal application to the OLRB, stated:

“Therefore, I am requesting the Ontario Labour Relations Board to order a full investigation using any government authority that is appropriate to carry out this investigation. I am asking the Board to make it’s [sic] decisions based on the outcome of this investigation if the investigation is ordered.”

The OLRB held that it had “no authority to do so in any circumstances, and certainly not in a section 50 application.  The Board will deal with appeals from an inspector’s decision or failure to make a decision.  In a section 50 application the Board will adjudicate a claim that an employer has take action against a worker for exercising a right under the Act.  That is a dispute between an employer and a worker and does not involve the Occupational Health and Safety Branch at all.”

Mr X v TJX Canada/Winners Merchants International, 2013 CanLII 68260 (ON LRB)

OLRB has no authority to order government investigation of safety-reprisal complaint