For most, it is difficult to know the difference between a safety inspection and a workplace safety investigation. It is vital that all HR and safety professionals know the distinction between the two.
When a Ministry Safety Officer enters your place of business, do you always wonder what the purpose of their visit is? Is it an inspection or is it an investigation?
Cynthia Sefton, a legal partner with Aird & Berlis LLP in Toronto, explains the vital differences. “An inspection is not an investigation, although it can lead to one,” she says. “The inspector comes to see if there is compliance. The decision to investigate a possible offence comes later.”
Typically, safety inspections come first, with an investigation following the inspection if the safety officer deems it necessary. In addition, there may be certain events that trigger an investigation right away, such as a critical injury that occurs in the workplace as defined by legislation.
It’s fundamental to understand the concept of compliance and due diligence. All Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation in Canada works on the principles of general duties, minimal standards and due diligence. All workplaces that are covered by OHS legislation must ensure they meet the minimal safety standard that is outlined in the legislation. Those standards must be reasonably achieved in all circumstances.
If you are not meeting the minimal standards you are by default not in compliance with the OHS legislation. The main purpose of ministry safety inspections is to identify if an organization complying. When they do that, the inspector can decide how to proceed.
Every year most provincial health and safety jurisdictions pick a combination of specific industries or safety hazards on which to focus. For example, the MOL of Ontario for 2019 have safety inspection blitzes in construction, health care and mining services planned.
In addition to inspection blitzes, each jurisdiction gives its health and safety inspectors the power to write orders. There are different types of orders a health and safety inspector can issue. The three most common ones are: 1) stop work, 2) forthwith and 3) a compliance order.
HR and safety professionals have to be aware of the subtle differences between a safety inspection and a workplace safety investigation, as well as being aware of their rights and their responsibilities under their local OHS laws. It is a large legal liability that is best addressed with a proactive safety program long before an inspector comes to visit for an inspection or an investigation.
Can you identify the powers of the safety inspectors in your jurisdiction?
Review under what circumstances an inspector in your jurisdiction will be required to conduct a workplace investigation.
Identify in your jurisdiction if the governmental safety department has identified any industry or topic specific safety blitzes.