The Ministry of Labour (MOL or the Ministry) has been busy implementing its Healthy and Safe Ontario Workplaces Strategy. Introduced by the previous Wynne government, the initiative has focused on small Ontario industrial businesses. A small business is one with fewer than 50 workers.
Occupational Health and Safety Act Inspections
In late August, the Ministry published a report on the results of the inspection initiative. During the period April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019, the Ministry of Labour visited 3,942 small business workplaces and issued 13,907 orders and requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). They also issued 184 stop-work orders.
MOL inspectors will look into how employers are complying with OHSA including:
- A health and safety policy and a program to implement the policy
- Workplace violence and harassment policies and programs
- Health and safety representative or joint health and safety committee
- Complying with posting requirements (for example, OHSA, Health and Safety at Work poster)
Inspectors will also check up on what steps employers are taking to protect workers by taking suitable action to identify and control hazards.
Under OHSA, while employers must comply with specific regulations and requirements, they also have a duty to meet the often higher standards of taking all reasonable precautions to protect their workers.
Employment Standards Act violations
The MOL also has the power to enforce the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and can even conduct inspections covertly. From April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019, 22,434 ESA claims were investigated, an increase of 7,500 over the previous fiscal year. The top five violations found during the 2018/2019 investigations were:
- Payment of wages
- Vacation pay/vacation time
- Termination pay
- Public holiday pay
- Overtime pay
Compliance with the law can seem onerous, especially for small employers who often take more of a casual approach with their workers. However, not complying with the law can cost a small business big bucks in terms of fines or various other orders that require spending money. In some instances, violations of OHSA can even lead to jail time. The minimum standards set by OHSA and the ESA exist to ensure fair and safe working conditions. Employers, disregard them at your peril!