Safety Manual “Lacking in Efficiency” – Employer Convicted under OHSA

An Ontario justice of the peace has held that an employer’s safety manual was defective, and has convicted the employer of four charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The employer was charged after a worker was seriously injured when he was hit by the bucket of an excavator while working in a trench removing old pipes and replacing them with new ones.

The charges alleged a failure to adequately train the worker, and failure to provide a competent, dedicated signaller who was clear of the intended path of travel of the equipment.

The court stated that:

“[T]his court views the contents of the corporate Safety Manual and the smaller Employee Safety and Environmental Handbook to be lacking in efficiency.  There was no reference to mandated signals to be a standard use of communication between all construction workers.  The Safety Manual had a very short description about the use of a ladder [to exit the trench].  There was conflicting information about the use of a ‘top man’ at the work site.  There was no specific testimony which established that the employees were aware of the content of every safety and health instruction in the Safety Manual.”

The justice of the peace also stated that, “The employee handbook has no written instruction regarding the role of a signaller.”  Although there was evidence that the employer had issued oral instructions at a “tailgate meeting”, those instructions were not sufficient.

This decision illustrates the importance of employers ensuring that their safety manuals cover, with the appropriate level of detail, the key safety issues for that employer’s workplace.  In this case, signalling was obviously key in the employer’s business, but it was covered inadequately in the safety manual. An inadequate safety manual can actually be used against the employer at trial, rather than assist in establishing a due diligence defence.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. Eastway Contracting Inc., 2012 CarswellOnt 17161 (Ontario Court of Justice)

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Adrian Miedema

About Adrian Miedema

Adrian is a partner in the Toronto Employment group of Dentons Canada LLP. He advises and represents public- and private-sector employers in employment, health and safety and human rights matters. He appears before employment tribunals and all levels of the Ontario courts on behalf of employers. He also advises employers on strategic and risk management considerations in employment policy and contracts.

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