A recent decision in Ontario brings to mind what not to do as an employer when an Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) inspector or officer arrives at the workplace. In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act ("OHSA") outlines not only the duties of various stakeholders, such as employers, but also provides the enforcement duties and powers of inspectors under Part VIII, Enforcement.
In my previous work-life, I can honestly admit that it was not a highlight of my day when an inspector arrived at the workplace to conduct a random inspection, even worse if they arrived because of an employee's complaint; however, there are obligations an employer must conduct or face the consequences. Consequence may be fines and convictions as a result of contravening the requirements of the OHSA.
In R. v. Sunny Roofing Inc., the employer was convicted on numerous counts. The majority of the counts were for failing to ensure personal protective equipment was worn as required by the Ontario OHSA, but they were also charged for obstructing a Ministry of Labour ("MOL") inspector from performing duties under the Ontario OHSA. The Court Bulletin on the MOL website stated that "Its (Sunny Roofing Inc.) workers fled the worksite during the investigation, and the company failed to respond to correspondence and the direction of the inspector". Following a trial on March 14, 2017, Sunny Roofing Inc. was fined $40,000 plus a 25% victim surcharge fee. The portion of that fine, $15,000, was for obstruction.
Section 54(1) of the Ontario OHSA provides the powers of inspectors for the purposes of carrying out their duties and powers under the legislation and the regulations. Inspectors may enter the workplace at any time with few exceptions, but are most likely to enter because A) a worker has made a complaint to the MOL regarding unsafe working conditions; B) the MOL received notice of a critical injury or fatality from the employer; or C) the inspector is conducting a random inspection.
Obstruction of an inspector or officer performing their legislative duties is an offence under the Ontario OHSA as well as the Criminal Code. Examples of obstruction may include, but are not limited to, blocking or restricting access to a workplace, failing to provide copies of document requested by the inspector or officer, refusing to provide or providing false information or a false statement, and disturbing the scene of an accident, except when authorized.
If your place of business is considered a workplace under the Ontario OHSA, you may have encounters with an OHS inspector or officer. Be aware of the legislated powers and duties these individuals have. Be aware of your legislated duties, but also be aware of your legislated rights when the inspector or officer arrives.