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U.S. OSHA’s “severe injury” statistics broken out by industry

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has produced a “year one” impact-evaluation report on its Severe Injury Reporting Program.

Effective January 1, 2015, U.S. employers have been required to report to OSHA within 24 hours of any work-related amputation, in-patient hospitalization or loss of eye.

OSHA reports that it received 7,636 “hospitalization reports” in 2015.  The manufacturing industry was responsible for 26% of the hospitalization reports, while 19% were from construction, 11% from transportation and warehousing, 8% from retail trade, 6% from “administrative and support and waste management and remediation services”, 6% from health care and social assistance, 5% from wholesale trade, 3% from oil and gas extraction and 16% from other industries.

Fully 57% of “amputation reports” came from manufacturing, with 10% from construction.

OSHA’s report can be accessed here.

U.S. OSHA’s “severe injury” statistics broken out by industry

Contractor loses lawsuit against city for alleged breaches of OHSA’s asbestos-disclosure rules

A construction contractor has lost its bid for damages from a city, relying on a little-used section of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act that permits contractors to sue a building owner for damages for failing to disclose the presence of designated substances such as asbestos. The contractor’s lawsuit and appeal were both dismissed.

The contractor alleged that the City of Ottawa had failed to notify it that asbestos was present on the construction project site, and that as a result, the contractor’s workers had been exposed to asbestos.  The contractor claimed damages for administrative expenses (it’s president’s time dealing with the issue) and legal costs resulting.

The contractor relied on subsection 30(5) of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, which reads:

30. (5) An owner who fails to comply with this section is liable to the constructor and every contractor and subcontractor who suffers any loss or damages as the result of the subsequent discovery on the project of a designated substance that the owner ought reasonably to have known of but that was not on the list prepared under subsection (1).

Subsections 30(1) and (3) of the OHSA together require the building owner to provide the contractor with a list of designated substances at the project site.

The trial and appeal court decided that the contractor had not proven any damages.  The list of hours spent and work done by the contractor’s president to deal with the asbestos issue, was vague and general and was not suitable proof.  There was no evidence that the legal bill was ever submitted to or paid by the contractor.  As such, the contractor’s lawsuit was dismissed.

Lastly, the trial and appeal court were not prepared to grant a “declaration” that the City caused the unprotected exposure of the workers to asbestos or that the City was liable for damages incurred by the contractor and workers as a result of the exposure.  The court noted that the request was speculative as it was not known whether any of the employees would ever become ill as a result of the asbestos exposure and if so, whether they would start legal proceedings.  Also, any declaration might have an impact on the rights of employees who were not a party to the lawsuit between the contractor and the City.

Curoc Construction Ltd. v. Ottawa (City), 2015 ONCA 693 (CanLII)

Contractor loses lawsuit against city for alleged breaches of OHSA’s asbestos-disclosure rules

MOL’s incident-reporting training Order to mining company not suspended

A Ministry of Labour compliance Order issued against a mining company for allegedly failing to report an “uncontrolled fall of ground” should not be suspended pending the outcome of the employer’s appeal of that Order, the Ontario Labour Relations Board has decided.

The Mines and Mining Plants regulation under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act requires that an uncontrolled fall of ground that causes damage to equipment or the displacement of more than 50 tonnes of material must be reported to the Ministry of Labour.

A Ministry of Labour inspector concluded that there had been a fall of ground in a stope that caused damage to a scoop tram, and that the employer had not reported it to the Ministry. The inspector Ordered the employer to ensure that its supervisors were trained in reporting falls of ground under the Regulation.

The employer appealed the Order and asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board to suspend the operation of that Order pending the appeal.  The OLRB refused to suspend the Order, holding that suspending the Order would likely endanger worker safety because if accidents are not reported, the Ministry of Labour will not be able to investigate and identify any hazards.  Also, the OLRB decided that a refusal to suspend the Order would have little effect on the employer because the employer already provided training to its supervisors so it would not require significant effort to train supervisors on incident reporting.

Employers often consider appealing Ministry of Labour Orders after an incident or accident, anticipating that the appeal is necessary in light of possible charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  The cost-benefit of filing such appeals must be carefully considered in light of the possibility of losing the appeal.

Glencore Canada Corporation v Mine, 2016 CanLII 2839 (ON LRB)

MOL’s incident-reporting training Order to mining company not suspended

Death of visitor leads to employer’s conviction, $100,000 fine under OHSA

This case is a reminder that injuries to non-employees can lead to Occupational Health and Safety Act convictions and fines against employers.

A visitor to a self-storage facility in North Bay fell through an open hole in the floor of a storage unit, after he came to the facility to examine a truck that was being stored there.  He fell about 6 feet to the concrete floor below and died.

The company that operated the self-storage facility pleaded guilty to the OHSA offence of failing as an employer to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker (failing to ensure that an open hole in the floor of a storage unit was protected by a guardrail or floor covering).

The Ministry of Labour notes, in its Court Bulletin, that the OHSA applies “because there were workers at the site who were exposed to the same hazard and the company is an ’employer'” under the OHSA.  That is, even where the injured employee is not a worker / employee, if the injury resulted from a hazard to which workers were also exposed, the OHSA applies and the employer may be charged and fined.

Death of visitor leads to employer’s conviction, $100,000 fine under OHSA

July 1, 2016: All Ontario employers must comply with new noise regulation

As of July 1, 2016, all Ontario employers will be required to comply with a new workplace noise Regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The new Regulation (381/15) replaces noise protection requirements currently in the regulations for Industrial Establishments, Mines and Mining Plants, and Oil and Gas-Offshore.  Those regulations apply to many – but not all – Ontario employers.

The noise obligations will be new for employers with the following types of workplaces:

  • construction projects
  • health care facilities
  • schools
  • farming operations
  • fire services
  • police services
  • amusement parks

The new Regulation’s basic requirements are:

-Employers must take “all measures reasonably necessary in the circumstances to protect workers from exposure to hazardous sound levels”

-The noise-protection measures must “include the provision and use of engineering controls, work practices” and, where required (and permitted), hearing protection devices

-In general, every employer must ensure that “no worker is exposed to a sound level greater than an equivalent sound exposure level of 85 dBA, Lex,8” (as calculated according to the Regulation) without requiring workers to wear hearing protection devices

-Hearing-protection devices are a secondary (not primary) noise-protection solution and will be permitted in only certain listed circumstances

-Employers must, where practicable, post a warning sign at every approach to an area where the sound level regularly exceeds 85

-Employers who provide hearing-protection devices must provide appropriate hearing-protection training to workers who use those devices.

The Regulation may be found online here.

July 1, 2016: All Ontario employers must comply with new noise regulation

Does your safety policy require an accident investigation? Court suggests investigation file may not be litigation privileged

An Alberta judge has suggested that if a workplace safety policy or program requires that certain accidents be investigated, then the accident investigation reports may not be subject to litigation privilege – meaning that government safety investigators may be entitled to obtain the investigation file.

The comment was made in a case that involved an investigation by an in-house lawyer after a “whistleblower” complained about a potential conflict of interest by a former employee.  Because the company had not shown that the dominant purpose of the investigation was to assist in anticipated litigation, rather than to satisfy the requirements of the company’s whistleblower program, the investigation documents were not litigation privileged.

The court offered the following analogy, which is of interest to health and safety professionals:

“A useful analogy might be drawn to the many reported cases dealing with fire or explosions at industrial facilities. When such event occurs it is obviously a real possibility that an investigation will result in litigation against, for example, the manufacturer of faulty equipment. However, the owner of the facility likely has workplace safety programs. Defendants to litigation are entitled to explore through cross-examination the parameters of the workplace safety program in order to advance an argument that, while anticipated litigation was one of the reasons for the investigation, the requirements of the workplace safety program was an equal reason for the investigation. Likewise, the defendants in this case are entitled to explore through cross-examination, inter alia, the extent to which the investigation which occurred was required under Talisman’s whistleblower program.”

While, in the whistleblower case, the company was not able to rely on litigation privilege to avoid turning over the investigation documents to the other side in a civil lawsuit, the court decided that the company could rely on legal advice privilege (also called “solicitor-client privilege”).  The court held that one of the purposes of the investigation was to ascertain the facts in order to get legal advice from their in-house counsel and, if the matter proceeded further, their outside counsel.  As such, the investigation file was subject to legal advice privilege and the company was not required to give it to the opposing party.

Employers should ensure, when faced with a serious accident, that they consider retaining legal counsel promptly to provide advice and to attempt to attach “legal advice privilege” to the investigation file. Otherwise, the employer may – depending on what its safety program says about investigations – be required to turn over the entire investigation file to the government safety investigators.

Talisman Energy Inc v Flo-Dynamics Systems Inc, 2015 ABQB 561 (CanLII)

 

Does your safety policy require an accident investigation? Court suggests investigation file may not be litigation privileged

Worker’s fainting at sight of his own blood was “work-related”: U.S. OSHA

We all know people who get light-headed at the sight of blood.  The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued an interpretation letter, advising that an incident in which a worker fainted at the sight of his own blood was “work-related”.

The worker in question had scratched his finger on a vinyl saw clamp at work. The injury was minor, and a Band-Aid was the only first aid treatment sought. However, while a co-worker applied the Band-Aid, the worker fainted at the sight of his own blood. He regained consciousness and no further treatment was needed.

The worker’s employer asked OSHA to clarify whether the event was work-related so that the employer was required to “record” the event on an OSHA form. The law required the employer to report a work-related injury or illness if it results in unconsciousness.

Because the employee fainted, OSHA determined that the fainting spell was work-related.

The case is a reminder that some injuries and accidents that appear not to be work-related, may be reportable.  For instance, in Ontario, employers are required to report “critical injuries” to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, including “an injury of a serious nature that . . . produces unconsciousness”.

OSHA’s interpretation letter may be read here.

Worker’s fainting at sight of his own blood was “work-related”: U.S. OSHA

B.C. introduces more legislation to improve workplace safety after mill fires

British Columbia recently introduced legislation to promote workplace safety in sawmills.  Bill 35 will require more extensive involvement from members of the joint health and safety committee during workplace accident investigations, and the immediate reporting of fires or explosions that could cause serious injury to a worker.

Bill 35 is the government’s response to two tragic mill accidents, the subsequent coroners’ reports, as well as specific proposals in the 2014 WorkSafeBC Review and Action Plan. In 2012, two mill explosions, one in Prince George, and one in Burns Lake, killed four men and injured dozens of other workers. Following those accidents, a coroners’ inquest was undertaken which resulted in specific recommendations relating to workplace safety and the standards required for building and refitting mills.  In addition, WorkSafeBC published its 2014 Review and Action Plan that included recommendations to make sawmills a safer place to work and to improve British Columbia’s investigation and inspection regime.

The government accepted all of the recommendations made in the WorkSafeBC Review and Action Plan Report. Bill 35 proposes amendments to the Workers Compensation Act as part of the broader undertaking to improve safety at sawmills.

The proposed legislative changes include the following:

  • Employers must immediately report to WorkSafeBC all fires or explosions that have the potential to cause serious injury to a worker.
  • There must be meaningful participation by workers and employer representatives in employer accident investigations and mandates a specific role for workplace health and safety committees to provide advice to the employer on proposed equipment or machinery changes that may affect worker health or safety.
  • Employer investigation reports must be provided to the workplace health and safety committee or worker health and safety representative, or be posted at the work site.
  • WorkSafeBC will be involved in proactively assisting workplace health and safety committees in resolving disagreements regarding health and safety matters.

Bill 35 also builds on legislative changes made under Bill 9 earlier this year, which increased WorkSafeBC’s ability to promote and enforce occupational health and safety regulations and addresses administrative issues relating to WorkSafeBC’s annual report and service plan and to the WorkSafeBC Superannuation Plan.

If you have any questions about this proposed legislation, please contact Jillian Frank in our Vancouver office at jillian.frank@dentons.com.

 

 

B.C. introduces more legislation to improve workplace safety after mill fires

Doctor’s note prescribing “no overtime” was obtained due to labour tensions, not employee’s health: three-day suspension imposed

An employee who obtained a doctor’s note to justify his desire not to work overtime during a labour dispute, deserved a three-day suspension, an arbitrator has held.

After the employer announced that it would be reducing the amount of time off accrued by certain employees, employees responded in protest by dramatically reducing the amount of overtime worked.  The employer then sought and obtained an order from the British Columbia Labour Relations Board, ending the employees’ overtime ban because it was effectively an unlawful work stoppage.

The day after the employer informed employees of the scheduling that would result from the court order, the employee saw a doctor who issued a note recommending that the employee not work overtime.  The employee had a history of working a significant amount of overtime up until he obtained that doctor’s note. The employer dismissed the employee for relying on the doctor’s note to permit him to participate in an unlawful work stoppage (overtime ban).  The employer argued that the employee had, by obtaining the doctor’s note, “disingenuously sought to get around the” Labour Relations Board order.

The arbitrator decided that the employee had indeed sought to avoid working overtime due to labour relations tensions, and it was his subjective statements regarding his health that the doctor relied upon in writing the “no overtime” note.  However, he had been sincerely feeling stress at work. He had relatively long service of about fifteen years, and good performance evaluations.  As such, dismissal was excessive.  The arbitrator instead imposed a three-day suspension.

Rio Tinto Alcan v Unifor, Local 2301, 2015 CanLII 54521 (BC LA)

 

Doctor’s note prescribing “no overtime” was obtained due to labour tensions, not employee’s health: three-day suspension imposed

Alcoholic employee reinstated after employer’s compassionate approach put in question seriousness of previous warnings

There is an old, and somewhat cynical saying, that no good deed goes unpunished. While I personally disagree with that saying, one employer must believe it after a decision it received.

In the case, an adjudicator reinstated an alcoholic employee who was dismissed after he was found to be under the influence of alcohol at work.  The employee had previously been disciplined for alcohol consumption, lateness/absenteeism and abandoning his shift, and on one occasion had entered into a “last chance agreement”.

The employee worked for a New Brunswick government agency filling orders for supplies destined for hospitals.  His work environment of “stores” was said to be safety-sensitive.  In April 2014, two coworkers complained to a supervisor that the employee had been “drinking again”.  The supervisor asked the employee, “are you drunk?” but received no response.  The employee smelled of liquor.  He later saw the employee “drifting down the hallway”, staggering to one side.   After the employer concluded that the employee failed to provide an explanation for being under the influence of alcohol and had not taken responsibility for his conduct, the employer later terminated his employment.

The adjudicator held that the employee, as an alcoholic, suffered from a “disability” for the purposes of human rights legislation.  The adjudicator recognized that many of the employee’s coworkers had suffered anxiety and stress as the “struggled emotionally to deal with the situation they faced” due to his alcohol abuse.  The employer had been “more than patient for many years” and was “entitled to a productive and effective contribution from each of its employees each and every day” and did “not always get that” from the employee.

However, the employer was had given the employee some “leeway” in its responses to his absenteeism and drinking.  Rather than being “steadfast” in its warning of further discipline and following through on warnings, the employer showed “compassion”.  The adjudicator expressed concern that that approach created the general impression in the mind of the employee that the threat of dismissal was not serious – that is, that the employer’s compassionate approach would continue.  Effectively, the employer’s approach had led to the “shepherd boy crying ‘wolf'” phenomenon: the employee may not have believed that the employer would follow through on its warnings.

Further, there were no aggravating circumstances; in particular, there was no aggressive behaviour from the employee in the incident that led to his dismissal.  As such, the adjudicator held that the dismissal was excessive and that the employer had not yet approached the point of “undue hardship” in accommodating the employee’s alcoholism.

The adjudicator set aside the dismissal, and instead imposed a 30-day suspension followed by a leave of absence without pay for 16 months during which the employee could complete a detox/rehabilitation program. Also, his return to work would be subject to a last chance agreement to be negotiated by the parties.  If the employee did not complete the detox/rehabilitation program in 16 months, his employment would end.

Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 1252 v Facilicorpnb, 2015 CanLII 54715 (NB LA)

Alcoholic employee reinstated after employer’s compassionate approach put in question seriousness of previous warnings

Lawyer’s harassment investigation report was not solicitor-client or litigation privileged: union entitled to a copy, says arbitrator

The mere fact that a lawyer prepared an investigation report does not make it privileged, a labour arbitrator has held, granting the union’s request for a subpoena to obtain the report.

The Durham Regional Police Association (the police union) filed a grievance alleging that the Association’s civilian members had suffered harassment. The Durham Regional Police Services Board (the employer) retained a lawyer to conduct a harassment investigation and prepare a report, which she did.  The Association requested a copy and the Board refused, claiming that the investigation report was protected by both solicitor-client privilege and anticipated-litigation privilege.

The arbitrator decided that the lawyer-investigator was retained to conduct an investigation into whether harassment occurred. She was not retained to conduct an investigation on the Board’s behalf and to assess its liability and provide legal advice.  The arbitrator noted that the lawyer-investigator was not the Board’s usual labour lawyer.  The lawyer-investigator’s retainer letter was also not a retainer for the provision of legal advice.  Importantly, the investigation was meant to be independent.  Effectively, she was acting as an independent investigator, not the Board’s labour lawyer.  As such, the investigation report was not covered by solicitor-client privilege.

With respect to anticipated-litigation privilege, the arbitrator stated that the dominant purpose for which the investigation report was prepared was not litigation.  Instead, the purpose of the report was to determine whether the harassment complaints were substantiated because the Board was committed to a harassment-free workplace.  Litigation was a mere possibility when the investigation was conducted and was not its dominant purpose.  As such, the investigation report was not protected by anticipated-litigation privilege.

The arbitrator concluded:

“There is so little evidence that the Investigation Report was prepared for the purposes of providing legal advice or in contemplation of litigation that if I were to find that it was privileged it would effectively mean that any time a solicitor is used for an independent harassment investigation an employer could claim privilege over the resulting report and related documents. That is not consistent with the jurisprudence or with good labour relations.”

This case is a reminder that employers and their counsel should carefully consider, up-front, whether they wish the investigator’s report to be independent or to be subject to privilege. If privilege is sought, the investigator’s retainer letter should clearly state that privilege is asserted, and whether both solicitor-client and anticipated-litigation privilege are claimed.  The Ontario Court of Appeal’s 2009 decision in R. v. Bruce Power Inc., 2009 ONCA 573 (CanLII) provides a good example of how privilege can be successfully asserted over a workplace investigation report.

Durham Regional Police Association v Durham Regional Police Services Board, 2015 CanLII 60920 (ON LA)

 

Lawyer’s harassment investigation report was not solicitor-client or litigation privileged: union entitled to a copy, says arbitrator

Safety contractor wins appeal of $1,000 administrative penalty under OHSA

Don’t be seen to cause a traffic jam that inconveniences a government health and safety officer.  Perhaps that is the real moral of this story.

A safety contractor was providing traffic control services on the Trans-Canada Highway in Nova Scotia where a bridge was under repair.  An Occupational Health and Safety Officer with the Nova Scotia government became caught in the resulting traffic jam.  While stuck in traffic, she tried by phone to put a stop to the bridge work so the traffic could clear.

Her main stated concern was that there was inadequate warning that traffic might be slowing down.  She wrote a compliance order against the safety contractor. Three months later she issued a $1,000.00 administrative penalty for allegedly failing to ensure that traffic control staff were provided with appropriate training, facilities and equipment.

The Nova Scotia Labour Board held that “these are very vague allegations”. It decided that the mere fact that the situation occurred did not prove that the traffic control staff lacked training and resources. The health and safety officer did not appear to have a clear understanding of what training or direction the safety contractor had provided on that day.  She drew her conclusions from limited information and not from a measured review. She did not contact the company in the days after the incident to give them the opportunity to address her concerns.

The Labour Board stated:

“The submissions of the Appellant impress me that the company is expert in its field and could have addressed many of the concerns of the officer, had she made the additional effort to contact company officials in the days following the incident.”

In the end, there was not a proper factual basis to support the Administrative Penalty, which was set aside.

Safety First Contracting (1995) Limited (Re), 2015 NSLB 148 (CanLII)

Safety contractor wins appeal of $1,000 administrative penalty under OHSA

OLRB orders employer to reinstate apartment building superintendent allegedly fired for reporting workplace violence

The Ontario Labour Relations Board has ordered an employer to reinstate an apartment building “office administrative superintendent” who alleged that she was fired after reporting that her husband, the maintenance superintendent at the same building, threatened their daughter and was about to hit her.  They resided in an apartment in the building.

Importantly, the employer did not file a Response to the employee’s OLRB Application, meaning that the OLRB’s decision was of a “default nature”.

The employee alleged that after she reported the incident of workplace violence, the property manager told her to “calm down” and not to call the police, and that she should “let it go” and forgive her husband.  The employee moved to a temporary shelter and reported the matter to police.  Her husband was arrested by police and was also fired by her employer.

The employee stated that she was without income, and would be required to change her daughter’s school.  The OLRB found that on the basis of the facts pleaded by the employee, she was “in a highly vulnerable and precarious position”.  Her allegations provided an “arguable case” that she was fired for asking the employer to comply with its workplace violence obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act; she had shown that she would suffer harm and real prejudice if she were not reinstated; and the employer had not provided any evidence that it would suffer prejudice or harm if she were reinstated pending the final determination of her safety-reprisal complaint.

As such, the OLRB decided to order the employer to reinstate the employee to her job “forthwith on the same terms and conditions” (which would, it appears, also require the employer to give her back her apartment in the building) pending the final outcome of the employee’s safety-reprisal case.  If nothing, else, this case demonstrates why employers should file a Response to all safety-reprisal claims made against them.

A.A. v B.B. Ltd., 2015 CanLII 53737 (ON LRB)

 

OLRB orders employer to reinstate apartment building superintendent allegedly fired for reporting workplace violence

Can provincial OHSA legislation apply across borders? Ontario OHSA protects employee for safety concerns raised while temporarily in B.C., OLRB decides

The question often arises as to whether occupational health and safety legislation in an employee’s home province protects him or her when temporarily working in another province.  According to one recent Ontario Labour Relations Board decision, in some cases the answer can be “yes”.

The employee was hired in Ontario, where he lived, in September 2013.  During his first year of employment, he worked for the employer in both British Columbia and Ontario.  In February 2015, he was temporarily assigned to work in B.C. for about three weeks as a Warehouse Supervisor. While there, he raised a number of safety complaints relating to forklifts (which he said were operated by untrained employees at high speeds), the lack of first aid kits, obstruction of emergency exits, black ice and other hazardous conditions.  The employee said that his efforts to have his concerns dealt with were unsuccessful.

Shortly after returning to Ontario, the company terminated his employment.  The employee then filed a reprisal complaint under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act claiming that he was fired for seeking the enforcement of the Ontario OHSA.  The employer objected, arguing that the safety issues related to compliance with B.C. – not Ontario – safety laws, and that the Ontario OHSA protected only against retaliation for asserting violations of the Ontario OHSA.

The OLRB stated:

“However, Mr. Escudero, as an employee of the responding party permanently based in Ontario, had the right, when he was temporarily assigned by the responding party to a workplace located in Prince George, to require the responding party to ensure that every precaution reasonable in the circumstances had been taken to protect him. That right existed independently of the substance of any applicable health and safety standard established by the legislature of British Columbia.  Simply put, at all times Mr. Escudero had the right to require the responding party to satisfy the statutory obligation established by section 25(2)(h) of the [Ontario OHSA].  Mr. Escudero states that he requested of the responding party that it do so, and that his employment was terminated shortly thereafter.  Mr. Escudero claims that his loss of employment was a consequence of the request he made of the responding party to ensure that it take reasonable precautions to protect him.  If a link between the latter request and the reason for his termination from employment is established, section 50(1) of the Act provides the Board with the authority to remedy the situation.”

As such, the OLRB had authority to adjudicate the reprisal complaint under the Ontario OHSA.

Escudero v Diversified Transportation Ltd./Pacific Western Group of Companies, 2015 CanLII 50878 (ON LRB)

 

Can provincial OHSA legislation apply across borders? Ontario OHSA protects employee for safety concerns raised while temporarily in B.C., OLRB decides

U.S. construction companies and manager face fines of nearly $2 million for exposing workers to asbestos

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) has cited a construction company and its manager for asbestos-related violations and imposed fines of almost $2 million.  Safety regulators are increasingly taking asbestos violations very seriously.

OSHA inspectors determined that the company and some of its supervisors told employees to remove asbestos-containing materials during renovation of a school. Many of the employees were temporary foreign workers whose first language was not English. OSHA’s investigation also found that management threatened some workers with termination if they spoke with OSHA inspectors.

Further, OSHA inspectors found that the manager and the companies failed to warn employees of the danger, even though they were aware of the asbestos hazard.  Further, they did not ensure that the workers used appropriate work methods and respirators, and did not train them on the hazards of working around asbestos.

The company and manager had 15 days to appeal to the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA’s News Release can be accessed here.

 

U.S. construction companies and manager face fines of nearly $2 million for exposing workers to asbestos

FOI adjudicator denies access to MOL inspector’s reasons for recommending no OHSA charges against employer

An adjudicator with the office of Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner has denied access to a Ministry of Labour inspector’s reasons for recommending that Occupational Health and Safety Act charges not be laid against an employer after a fatal motor vehicle accident involving the death of eleven people including migrant workers.

The requester wanted a copy of the Ministry of Labour’s “employment safety investigation report”.  The MOL granted “partial access”, apparently handing over some parts of the investigation report but not the factors and considerations that went into the inspector’s recommendation that OHSA charges not be laid.

The requester argued that the public interest in safety, and the need to subject MOL enforcement and decisions to public scrutiny, required that the factors and considerations be made public.

The adjudicator refused to grant access to the factors and considerations that went into the inspector’s decision not to recommend OHSA charges.  Instead, the information fell squarely within the exemption in section 13(1) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act which provides that advice or recommendations of a public servant need not be disclosed.  The public interest did not require disclosure.  In fact, the public interest suggested that the information not be disclosed, because otherwise Ministry of Labour inspectors may feel constrained in providing full, free and frank advice.

Ontario (Labour) (Re), 2015 CanLII 31652 (ON IPC)

 

 

FOI adjudicator denies access to MOL inspector’s reasons for recommending no OHSA charges against employer

Employer permitted to use “cumbersome” two-page sick leave medical form implemented after STD costs increase, arbitrator rules

An employer’s introduction of a new two-page sick leave medical form did not violate the collective agreement, a labour arbitrator has held.

The employer introduced the form in response to the increasing costs of short-term disability claims and absences.  The new policy required that for absences greater than two days, the employee must ask his or her physician to fill out a two-page medical form.  The form did not seek information regarding a diagnosis but did ask the physician to indicate the date of the injury, whether it was work-related or not, whether it had been reported to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and if the injury was work-related, whether it was recurring.  It also asked the physician to indicate any physical or cognitive limitations as well as the expected duration of those limitations and the expected return-to-work date.

The union argued that the medical form was simply too cumbersome and bureaucratic.  The employer noted that in simple cases, the physician did not need to fill out the entire form, and there were no repercussions to employees where the physician refsed to fill out all or part of the form.

The arbitrator decided that the employer did have the right to the information in the form.  Also, given the increasing cost of STD claims, it was reasonable for the employer to seek additional information that could encourage earlier returns to work.  Although the form may be cumbersome, particularly for simple illnesses such as the flu, there was no information in the form to which the employer was not entitled.  The employer was within its rights to implement the new medical form.

United Steelworkers Local 7175 v Veyance Technologies Canada Inc, 2015 CanLII 30713 (ON LA)

Employer permitted to use “cumbersome” two-page sick leave medical form implemented after STD costs increase, arbitrator rules

Arbitrator strikes down employer’s total ban on smoking during shift

An employer went too far when it banned smoking by employees during their shift, including during breaks and off the employer’s premises, a labour arbitrator has ruled.

Starting in January 2015, the employer – which manufactured wire and cable products – banned smoking anywhere on company property, including outside of the plant.  Employees were also prohibited from leaving company property during their breaks, so that effectively employees could not smoke during their shift.

The union filed a grievance against the ban.  The arbitrator agreed that the employer had the right to prohibit smoking on its property.  He acknowledged that smoking is harmful to smokers, their colleagues, and the employer generally.  However, smoking is still a legal activity in Ontario and the employer could not, according to the arbitrator, prohibit employees from smoking off company property during their break, even though employees were paid during their break.

Given that it took only a minute or two to leave the plant and exit company property, it was an unreasonable exercise of management rights – and therefore a violation of the collective agreement – for the employer to prohibit employees from smoking off property during break time.

It is important to note that this decision is based on labour relations law.  The same result would not necessarily apply in a non-unionized setting.  In those workplaces, employees would need to assert that the smoking ban was discriminatory under human rights legislation based on a disability (addiction).

United Steelworkers Local 7175 v Veyance Technoligies Canada Inc, 2015 CanLII 30713 (ON LA)

 

 

Arbitrator strikes down employer’s total ban on smoking during shift

Another lesson about clarity in settlements: employer may file WSIB appeal after mediated settlement, despite union’s objection

An employer’s appeal challenging a departed employee’s workers’ compensation entitlements may proceed, despite being filed after the employer, union and employee reached a settlement at mediation.

The union had filed earlier grievances relating to the employee’s health and safety and her dismissal.  The union, employer and employee settled the grievances  at mediation and signed Minutes of Settlement under which the employee resigned.

After the Minutes of Settlement were signed, the employer filed an appeal challenging the worker’s entitlement to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board loss of earnings benefits relating to an earlier workplace injury.  The union claimed that that appeal breached the Minutes of Settlement.   The dispute went in front of an adjudicator with the Grievance Settlement Board.

The adjudicator noted that the Minutes of Settlement settled all issues relating to the employee’s employment and the termination of her employment.  However, the employer had not released any of its rights whatsoever.  Importantly, paragraph 9 of the Minutes of Settlement prohibited the employee from pursuing reinstatement and reemployment but went on to state, “this paragraph is without prejudice to the parties’ position with respect to any other matter under the” Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.

The adjudicator decided that although when the Minutes of Settlement were signed, the employee was receiving loss of earnings benefits under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, there was no guarantee in the Minutes of Settlement that she would continue to do so.  As such, the employer’s WSIB appeal did not breach the Minutes of Settlement.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (Robbescheuten) v Ontario (Community Safety and Correctional Services), 2015 CanLII 32419 (ON GSB)

Another lesson about clarity in settlements: employer may file WSIB appeal after mediated settlement, despite union’s objection

U.S. OSHA and Health Canada continue “partnership” to coordinate labelling and classification of hazardous chemicals, implement GHS

Health Canada and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have announced that they will “continue their partnership” to “align United States and Canadian regulatory approaches regarding labelling and classification requirements for workplace chemicals through the Regulatory Cooperation Council.”

In 2013, Health Canada and OSHA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to promote ongoing collaboration on implementing the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling (GHS) in both countries.  Countries around the world are adopting GHS, which provides a consistent international system for chemical classification and labelling.

OSHA and Health Canada say that they intend to reduce inconsistencies among hazard communication regulations and to provide concise information to protect workers exposed to hazardous chemicals.  The two countries intend to implement a system allowing the use of one label and one safety data sheet that would be compliant in both countries.

In February 2015, the Government of Canada published in the Canada Gazette, Part II the Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR) which modified the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) 1988 to incorporate GHS.

While those amendments came into force February 11, 2015, there will be a transition period during which suppliers and employers can comply with either the old WHMIS system (WHMIS 1988) or the new WHMIS system (WHMIS 2015) (the transition period rules and periods differ for employers and suppliers).

For further information on the transition, in Canada, to WHMIS 2015, click here.

U.S. OSHA and Health Canada continue “partnership” to coordinate labelling and classification of hazardous chemicals, implement GHS