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Safety Co-Ordinator who “Assumed a Passive Role” Convicted under OHS Act

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An Occupational Health and Safety Co-ordinator has been found guilty of a violation of Nova Scotia’s Occupational Health and Safety Act for neglecting to follow up with his employer on recommendations in an asbestos report.

The Safety Co-ordinator was employed with the Cape Breton Island Housing Authority.  When maintenance employees reported that insulation in housing units might contain asbestos, the Safety-Coordinator obtained a report from a testing company.  The report confirmed that the insulation contained asbestos.  The Safety Co-ordinator gave the report to two supervisors employed with his employer.  He then, the judge said, “assumed a passive role” and did not follow up.  The supervisors apparently did nothing with the report until months later when an outside electrician pressed them for information about the insulation.

A government safety inspector was called in and imposed 515 compliance orders.

The court found the Safety Co-ordinator guilty of failing to take reasonable precautions for the safety of persons at or near the workplace, including residents of the homes that contained the asbestos insulation.  It did not matter that he “was not paid at the level of top managers”, did not consider himself a manager, and did not believe he would be involved in making decisions about what to do with the asbestos report.  It also did not matter that he spent much of his time dealing with fire drills, a return-to-work program, and updating a safety manual.  His job description showed that his role was to promote a safe and healthy workplace.

The court stated that upon receiving the testing report, the Safety Co-ordinator should have immediately notified the Director of the housing authority; followed up directly with the two supervisors to whom he gave a copy of the report; told the joint occupational health and safety committee about the report; and instigated a formal hazard assessment of the risks to employees who were working around the insulation.

This decision suggests that courts will hold safety professionals to high standards, particularly where they become aware of hazards in the workplace.   In this case, a job-description duty to promote safety turned into a legal duty that resulted in a conviction and a $1,000.00 fine.

The decision may be read at: http://www.canlii.org/en/ns/nspc/doc/2011/2011nspc67/2011nspc67.html