Small office with large number of dispersed independent contractors may be required to establish joint health and safety committee

The Ontario Court of Appeal has held that independent truck drivers were “regularly employed” by the load broker that contracted with them to transport sand, gravel and crushed stone.

Section 9 of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act requires a joint health and safety committee “at a workplace at which twenty or more workers are regularly employed”.

The company, United Independent Operators Limited, had a small office with fewer than 20 employees but contracted with 30 to 140 independent truck drivers depending on the time of year. It was charged with not having a joint health and safety committee at that office.

The court rejected the company’s argument that, because the truck drivers were independent, they were not “regularly employed” by the company. The court noted that the OHSA’s definition of “employer” includes the employer of an independent contractor and the definition of “worker” includes independent contractors.

Interestingly, the court did not decide the ultimate question of whether the company must establish a joint health and safety committee, because there had been no decision on whether the company’s office was the truck drivers’ “workplace” at which they were regularly employed. As the company had already established a joint health and safety committee, that issue did not need to be decided.

This decision may affect employers with small offices that support dispersed contractors such as salespersons or drivers. Those employers should consider counting the dispersed contractors as “regularly employed” workers at that workplace and establishing a joint health and safety committee at that workplace, in order to avoid the types of charges that United Independent Operators Limited faced for approximately six years.

Ontario (Ministry of Labour) v. United Independent Operators Limited (Ontario Court of Appeal):

http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onca/doc/2011/2011onca33/2011onca33.pdf