While there has been a steady increase in the enforcement of health and safety violations at workplaces by the Ministry of Labour (MOL) in recent years, the Occupational Health & Safety Act (OHSA) hasn’t always kept pace.
That has now changed. Bill 177, the Stronger, Fairer Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2017, amended the OHSA, and those amendments are now in effect. As the amendments allow for, and depend on, further changes that will be coming, it will take time until their full scope is understood. However, it is clear that there will be an immediate impact on workplaces.
- First, the Bill overhauls the OHSA’s sentencing regime by changing fine limits that have been in place for more than a generation. Up until the amendments, the maximum fines that individuals and corporations faced were $25,000 and $500,000 respectively. Those limits have now been increased to $100,000 and $1.5M. While these changes will have to make their way through the courts, prosecutors are likely soon to start seeking proportionate increases in fines, and fines may well double or triple.
- Second, the OHSA has always required that charges be laid within a year of the date of an incident. This also has changed. A discoverability component has been added, and charges can now be laid within a year of an inspector becoming aware of an alleged offence. While it isn’t yet clear how this will be applied, it is clear that charges can now be laid more than a year after an incident has happened. As a result, revisions may have to be made to the way in which companies conduct internal investigations, retain records and insure risks.
- Third, employers have always had to notify the MOL of certain accidents and when certain substances are used at a workplace. However, employers’ reporting obligations have now changed. Employers now have to notify the MOL when joint health and safety committees or representatives identify potential structural inadequacies in a workplace that could be a source of danger to workers. It also appears that the regulations will be changed to include new instances in which notice from employers will be required, including accidents that do not result in critical injuries or hospitalization. These changes will likely require companies to review their internal policies and maintenance standards, and they will also likely lead to an increase in MOL scrutiny of workplaces.