- "I can go to training, but it won't make any difference because nothing will change around here." - Worker
- "I provided all the required training, so now if there's an accident I'm not liable." - Supervisor
- "I have managers and supervisors that are responsible for ensuring that all necessary training is done." - Employer
I'm a business owner. And over the years, I have heard these comments more times than I care to remember. Nobody wants to take responsibility for their actions, especially when it comes to training. It's much easier to pass the buck. But this attitude has serious consequences for every person in the workplace in terms of safety and liability.
Obligations of Workers
Unlike U.S. OSHA, Canadian OHS laws impose health and safety-related responsibilities on the workers themselves. Among other things, workers are required to comply with the company's safe work policies and practices and to apply the lessons of their training. If they fail to do so, they can be prosecuted for an OHS violation.
Although relatively rare, prosecutions against workers do happen, especially when a co-worker is injured as a result of the worker's safety violation. In addition to fines, workers face prison sentences for violating safety rules. Last year, for example, an Ontario trucker was jailed for 90 days for running over a worker. The fatality was caused by the driver's failure to obey the company's traffic signals.
Obligations of Supervisors
Canadian OHS laws also cover supervisors. Among other things, supervisors must provide training and supervision. Some provinces, like Ontario, include a section of supervisor duties in their OHS statutes. Others, like Alberta, require "employers" to perform these functions and don't mention supervisors by name. However, the definition of "employer" in the statute is broad enough to encompass the supervisor. Thus, the supervisor is actually prosecuted as an employer. Prosecutions against supervisors - whether as "supervisors" or "employers" - are up all across Canada. For example, last year there were at least half a dozen prosecutions of supervisors in Ontario alone.
In addition, in 2004, Canada enacted a criminal law called Bill C-45 that requires those who "control work" to take "reasonable steps" to ensure that it's done safely. C-45 was enacted in response to the notorious Westray disaster in which 28 Nova Scotia coal miners were killed in an explosion caused by the mine owner's indifference to the dangerous buildup of coal and methane gases in the mine. The intent of the law is to hold upper management of corporations responsible for egregious safety violations. But the first criminal prosecution under the law was against a supervisor for a fatal trench collapse at a residential construction site in Ontario.
Obligations of Employers
In Canada and the U.S., employers are the main target of the OSHA/OHS laws. Among their obligations is the duty to ensure that workers receive adequate safety training and appropriate supervision by a competent supervisor. The employer must not only put in place safe work policies and procedures but ensure they're followed.
The "ensure they're followed" line is not a throwaway. On the contrary, employers are expected to monitor compliance with their policies and discipline workers (and others) who commit infractions. In the U.S. and Canada, failure to back a safety policy with discipline is often the deciding factor in the imposition of liability on an employer.
All workplace stakeholders have responsibilities to ensure a healthy and safe workplace. It is time for industry to be "proactive." We all need to stop and take a moment to reflect on what's at stake and what the consequences will be for failing to carry out our responsibilities.
This is particularly true of safety training. All of us who are parents realize that teaching little Johnny how to get dressed and tie his shoes is no easy task. It takes time, patience and persistence over an extended period of time. Why, then, do we think that we can deliver to our workers everything they need to know about the hazards they encounter, the operations they perform and the machinery they operate in a single safety training class? This is an illusion. And if you buy into it, you're setting yourself up for injuries and liability.
Workplace Safety Laws in U.S. & Canada
By Glenn Demby
Occupational health and safety laws in the U.S. and Canada are similar. But there are some significant differences. Judy's article highlights some of them. For example, under U.S. OSHA laws, workers can't be charged with a safety violation. In Canada, they can be.
Here's a little quiz to highlight some of the other distinctions and similarities in the two countries' laws. Next to each statement, list "U" if you think it applies to the U.S., "C" if you think it applies to Canada, "B" if it applies to both countries and "N" if it applies to neither. Good luck:
0-1 wrong: You're a North America OHS-ologist