An employee in Ontario is facing a charge under that province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.  It is not for causing an injury.  It is not for participating in unsafe work practices.  He is being charged for failing to report an unsafe work situation that he observed.

This is not a BC case, so it does not have direct application to employers in BC.  But it is remarkable as an example of putting some teeth behind the often forgotten duty of both employers and employees to work safely and promote safe work practices.

We know that employers always have that liability and are consistently punished in one way or another when anything goes wrong, notwithstanding all the good efforts they have made to ensure a safe workplace.  We also know that only rarely are employees held responsible, even when they have acted contrary to workplace rules and safety training they have received.

The fact that an employee is now facing a charge in these circumstances may help employers drive home the message in safety training that everyone has a responsibility.

To give that pitch some substance, here are the facts of the Ontario case:

The City of Ottawa had a private contractor hooking up a site to the water and sewer systems.  The contractor’s employees were seen by a government inspector working in an unshored trench.  The inspector also noted a City employee who was not working on the sewer hook-up but who allegedly observed the work in the unshored trench.  Both the Supervisor of the contractor and City employee have been charged.  The City employee goes to provincial court on November 29 and faces a potential fine of up to $1,000.

We are also reminded by our colleague Dan Pugen in Toronto that supervisors are being held liable.  In one recent case an Ontario Ministry of Labour prosecution led to a $30,000 fine.

These examples should be sobering reminders to all employees.