Health and Safety Responsibility

Law and justice of Canada concept with a 3d rendering of a gavel on a wooden desktop and the Canadian flag on background.

Who is really responsible?

Understanding the complexities of the Canada health and safety (H&S) legal framework is a difficult challenge for any new Human Resources professional.

A brief review on how Health and Safety legislation is structured in Canada may be helpful. All provinces, territories and the Canadian Federal Government have their own Health and Safety laws and structures.

Click here to get a good overview of H&S in Canada.

All Health and Safety legislation is based on common principles which include:

  • Duties and responsibilities of employers, supervisors and workers
  • The three basic health and safety rights; to know, to participate and to refuse unsafe work
  • Enforcement by inspectors which can lead to fines, potential criminal charges and imprisonment.

At its foundation, Health and Safety laws are based on a legal concept called due diligence. The Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) defines due diligence as:

“Due diligence is important as a legal defense for a person charged under occupational health and safety legislation. If charged, a defendant may be found not guilty if he or she can prove that due diligence was exercised. In other words, the defendant must be able to prove that all precautions, reasonable under the circumstances, were taken to protect the health and safety of workers.”

The interesting thing to note is that due diligence can only legally be demonstrated by an employer’s safety actions before a negative safety event, not after! No matter how much an organization improves after an incident, that improvement has no bearing on an organization’s actions (or lack of actions) prior to the negative safety event.

In addition to provincial regulatory legislation, another legal layer has been added through Bill C45 which allows for individuals and employers to be found liable under the criminal code of Canada.

Recently, the tragic death of a young construction worker in Ottawa brings all of these legal concepts into reality.

Click here to read the full story.

It is interesting to note that this particular construction company was investigated by the Ministry of Labour on a very similar issue of falling ice injuring a worker prior to this devastating workplace fatality.

Unfortunately, this is a story that plays out far too often in Canadian workplaces. There are near miss incidents where no one is hurt and the issue is ignored. Provincial inspectors issue orders that do not go far enough. When a worker is killed, more orders are written and maybe, just maybe, the fatality will be investigated under Bill C45.

Clearly, our Health and Safety legal structure is not as effective as it should be. It is definitely time to ensure that responsibility for keeping our fellow human beings are safe, rests with all of us, not just with some of us.

Discussion Question:

  1. Many senior managers and supervisors seem not to understand the complexities of Canada’s H&S legal system. You have been asked by your VP of HR to prepare a ten minute presentation on: your provincial H&S act, due diligence and Bill C45. Include at least one recent current example of where a workplace incident went wrong and its potential impact on the organization and individual management responsibilities.

Heat Stress: We Are all Susceptible!

Employee sweating in a warm office
Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

How to ensure safety in the extreme heat.

May 5, 2016 started out like any other school day in Winnipeg, but something was different, very different, and unusual; actually it was the first time in 90 years that it happened.

What was this unusual activity that occurred on that fateful May 5? It was the temperature! It soared to 34 degrees Celsius in parts of Manitoba. According to the Winnipeg Free Press:

“The province slapped restrictions on activities in the Spruce Woods Provincial Park and the Spruce Woods Provincial Forest …. all back country travel and access to remote cottage areas must be approved by a travel permit issued at the discretion of local conservation officers.”

The provincial government was concerned about high temperatures on that day, so much so that they ordered restrictions on certain activities in provincial parks, however, many of these restrictions were to reduce the risk of forests fires, it certainly was not to warn everyday citizens, or workers about possible risk of death.

To read the complete article click here.

Perhaps not enough thought was put into the possible deadly effects of heat stress, because on that day a 40 year old high school teacher on a field trip to Spruce Woods Provincial Park fainted and died. Although the root cause of her death is still under investigation at the time of this writing, there are reasons to believe that heat stress may have played part in this workplace fatality.

In our workplaces there is a very poor understanding of the possible health effects of extreme temperatures in this case heat. Most workplace H&S legislation in Canada does not specifically address extreme temperatures, but all have a general duty clause where employers must take every reasonable precaution to prevent illness, injury or death of its employees.

In all cases where workers are exposed to extreme temperatures there is a reasonable obligation of employers to conduct a risk assessment to measure the potential health risk. In most cases with respect to heat stress, employers fail to take a proactive position. A heat stress policy and plan is required to make workers aware of the dangers and the control measure of heat stress.

Click here to download WorkSafe Guide to Preventing Heat Stress.

It would be beneficial if workers and employers in Canada took the effects of heat stress seriously and have a heat stress control plan in place in every work setting.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Review your provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations, does it set out maximum and minimum temperatures limits. If yes what are they?  If no, why not?
  2. Develop a heat stress policy, including what measures and tools you are recommending to measure heat stress, remember to include temperature and humidity.
  3. Research what is a work/rest schedule for heat stress, and comment on why employers may be reluctant to implement one in the workplace.

The Historical WCB Trade off

How are WCB rates set?

First off, let’s learn the language of workplace compensation. Each province has its own workplace compensation board with its own unique name.

Click here to see the name of your provincial workers compensation board.

For ease of reference for this post, let’s use WCB as the common term.

To understand WCB in Canada, one must first understand the concept of the “Historic Tradeoff” under Canadian Workers’ Compensation law. Workers have given up the right to sue their employers in exchange for access to workplace compensation should they (the workers) be injured at work. In exchange, employers have gained the great benefit of not being sued, and they (the employers) must fund the cost of providing the workplace insurance system which compensates injured workers. That, in essence, is the “Historic Tradeoff.”

Employers must fund WCB through payroll assessments called rate groups. Usually this is defined as an amount per $100 of payroll. For example, a grocery stores rate group will pay $2.20 per $100 of payroll.

In Ontario, the workplace compensation board (known as WSIB) is planning to put employers in the driver’s seat with regard to payroll assessment costs. The WSIB is planning to modernize its assessment rates in order to provide more an effective trade-off between the employee and the employer.

Source: Canadian HR Reporter. The above content constitutes a link to the source website. Please click on the play icon to stream the video.

WSIB in Ontario is planning a new three step system to help allow employers to have greater control over their individual premiums by including:

  1. Employer classification
  2. Class level premium rate setting
  3. Employee level premium rate adjustment

Click here to see WSIB information on the new rating system.

Hopefully, this new system will allow employers who have less workplace accidents to lower their workplace insurance premiums over time. Employers who put time and energy into a ensuring that they have a good safety record will be rewarded through lower WCB costs and increased safety systems.

It will be interesting to see how this new trade-off unfolds in Ontario.

Discussion Questions:

  1. You are working for a company in Alberta that wants to expand into two new provinces. Your CEO has asked you to recommend which provinces the organization should consider moving into. The CEO wishes you consider the WCB premium costing as the factor of study.
    1. Pick an industry, identify its current rate group cost in Alberta and then pick two (2) other provinces you would recommend.
    2. In your analysis include current rate group costs and any possible future trends.

Click here to see rating chart.

  1. Pick three provinces and review any workers compensation assessment incentive inventive programs that the province offers, how do they differ? How are they similar?
  2. Would the new compensation system in Ontario entice you to move the organization to that province?

The Precautionary Principle

How to understand risk versus the perception of risk.

Understanding risk management is a fundamental skill for any HR practitioner wishing to explore a career in Health and Safety (H&S). As the Human Resources function continues to increase its role in relation to Health and Safety, risk management is quickly becoming a core competency for any HR practitioner. By understanding risk we can actively implement controls to reduce, or better yet, eliminate safety risks for all employees in the workplace.

The following video clip which explains understanding hazard recognition, risk assessment and controls.

Source: The above content constitutes a link to the source website. Please click on the play icon to stream the video.

This video clip does a great job at summarizing the overall concept of risk management and risk assessment as it touches on terms such as:

  • Hazard
  • Risk
  • Safety
  • The Precautionary principle

If a company’s goal is to truly improve workplace safety and eliminate injuries and illnesses, it must have an effective risk management assessment system in order to drive its safety efforts. Risk assessment is a very simple concept that does not seem to get a lot of traction in the workplace. It is a powerful preventative tool that could and should be used effectively.

By developing a comprehensive risk assessment system and then implementing controls to reduce the work with the greatest risks, any organization will be able to achieve the overarching goal of reducing workplace injuries and illnesses.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As a new HR practitioner, how has this video provided you with a better understanding of: hazard recognition, assessment and control?
  2. Your company wants you to research and recommend a form to be used as a hazard assessment tool. Research different types of hazard assessment forms that are available. Select one that you think is most effective and explain why you selected it.
  3. Explain the difference between hazard assessment and risk assessment.

Understanding the Impact of Poor Health and Safety

Horizontal view of depressed young woman crying

Picture this: You are a manager of a medium-size manufacturing company. The company is big enough to be considered a significant employer but small enough for you to have personal connections with all employees and some of their families.

It is 4:30 pm which is almost quitting time for the afternoon shift. You have just been called out to the shipping and receiving area. It is chaos. A large shelving unit has collapsed and it is clear there is a worker trapped beneath it who will not survive. It is traumatic for everyone to watch.

Once the initial first medical response has been implemented the ministry of labour arrives on site to do an inspection of the accident. Everything else is in limbo and the night shift workers have been called to cancel their shift.

Here is where it gets really difficult.

As you walk back to your office you ask the HR department to get the employee’s home phone number. The employee’s file is given to you. Everything moves in slow motion, you can smell the dust coming off the file, you take the file and immediately feel a sharp stinging, you are not sure if it is your hand or your heart. It is like a message is being sent to you, this moment, this call, will change your life forever.

As the direct supervisor you have been given the task of making the call to inform the employee’s spouse that her husband will not be coming home tonight or ever again. You pick up the phone and dial the number. A small voice answers, it is the employee’s daughter who has just been picked up from kindergarten. You ask to speak to her mother.

You know that little girl’s life has been changed forever! She may never even remember the sound of her father’s voice, the touch of his hand. Your eyes well up as you take a deep breath. You have no idea what you are going to say next,

“Stephanie, there has been an accident ….,” nothing more has to be said.

Stephanie knows that the last time she saw her husband was over their morning coffee together, the ritual which they have had since they were married.

Click here to read about the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada

Recently, Canadian Electrocoating Ltd. pleaded guilty to a violation of the Ontario Health and Safety Act and was fined $175,000. This fine in no way represents the true cost of an employee fatality at work. Emotions, sadness and despair: these are the true costs of a workplace fatality. Nothing will ever be the same to anyone who knew or worked with the employee who was killed in the workplace.

Click here to read an article about the fine

Every occupational health and safety act in Canada outlines the duties and responsibilities of employers, supervisors and workers. All of these acts are clear that the employer is responsible and must be diligent in ensuring worker safety. Unfortunately, all stake holders fail in their duties and responsibilities at least 1000 times per year in Canada, resulting in these tragic workplace fatalities.

If you are a planning on becoming a Human Resources, Health and Safety professional or a supervisor, you must ask yourself, do I know my duties and responsibilities?

Most importantly, you must ask yourself, what do I have to do to ensure a safe workplace so I never have to make that call?

Discussion Questions:

  1. You have been hired in a manufacturing company that has a poorly developed safety program. You have asked to meet with the stakeholders: management, supervisors and union members to discuss the current obstacles to health and safety improvements in the plant.
  2. What types of obstacles do you anticipate from each of the stakeholders?
  3. What kind of support do you need from each stakeholder in order to change the safety program?