Archive for the ‘Ministry of Labour’ Category

Ruling: Worker Wrongly Terminated

Monday, September 19th, 2016

Ruling: Worker Wrongly TerminatedIn a recent ruling, WorkSafeBC has determined that a mechanic working on the construction of a leg of the SkyTrain transit system in Metro Vancouver was wrongly terminated because he raised concerns about safety on the job and because he refused to perform takes that he felt were unsafe. In its decision, the agency ruled that SNC-Lavalin and SELI Canada had wrongfully terminated worker David Britton’s employment in the construction of a transit tunnel on Nov. 3, 2014, and then lied about the reasons for his dismissal.

Britton was part of a team of workers who were building the tunnel that would serve as the Evergreen Line on the transit system. According to Britton, in July 2014, Minearc, a manufacturer of refuge chambers, sent a mining engineer to train him with regard to proper maintenance of the chamber. When they did so, they found that certain parts, such as a cartridge designed to convert carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide, had not been purchased by Britton’s employers. Britton said that he reminded the companies of the problem repeatedly at joint occupational health and safety meetings. The employers were also putting increased pressure on him to certify the chamber for use, which he refused to do until it was capable of functioning properly.

Britton eventually received the needed parts and signed off on the chamber’s readiness, but three days later, they fired him and hired two temporary foreign workers to do his job. They also brought in the same mining engineer to train  to do his job. Britton also cited numerous incidents to support his position that he had been wrongly fired, including the fact that his supervisor was also a temporary foreign worker from Italy who did not speak either of Canada’s official languages, which he said made communication very difficult. That supervisor was also cited by the employers for unsafe work, but was never demoted, according to Britton.

WorkSafeBC also noted that Britton was not the only worker on the Evergreen Line who was dismissed after bringing up safety concerns and refusing unsafe work. A crane operator named Julio Serrano also has a case before WorkSafeBC. According to Serrano, he reported unsafe work conditions numerous times and at one point, he refused to operate a crane because the employer had removed the limit switch. After he met with WorkSafeBC last December 3, the agency conducted an investigation and shut down the crane. On December 19, Serrano was laid off. His case is still under investigation.

Appeal Court Upholds OHS Conviction

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

judgementLast week, an appeal judge in Ontario has upheld an employer’s conviction under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) for their failure to “block” a machine. That came after the trial judge ruled that the act of “blocking” a machine, in fact, required a physical block and that simply shutting off the hydraulic power to a machine was insufficient.

The accident at the heart of the charges happened at a sawmill operated by the company. The worker who was the victim of the accident suffered a crushing injury to his arm as he was performing maintenance and reached between the “side heads” of a saw. At the time, a co-worker who was unaware that the other worker was doing maintenance used the control box to close the side heads. Though the machine had been shut down for maintenance, the hydraulics had been left on by the maintenance worker.

The company was charged by the Ontario Ministry of Labour for their failure to ensure that a “part of a machine, transmission machinery, device or thing shall be cleaned, oiled, adjusted, repaired or have maintenance work performed on it only when . . . any part that has been stopped and that may subsequently move and endanger a worker has been blocked to prevent its movement,” as required by section 75(b) of the Industrial Establishments regulation under the OHSA.

The appeal court agreed with the trial court and upheld its ruling, that “blocking” required the use of a physical block, such as a “large solid piece of hard material,” which meant the conviction was upheld and allowed to stand. The Appeal judge also agreed that the $48,000 fine was reasonable under the circumstances, even though the company had only 25 workers and had no previous OHSA convictions.

WorkSafeBC Wants Construction Workers Safer

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Construction SafetyWorkSafeBC’s Industry and Labour Services Construction team has been working with stakeholders and others throughout the province to develop initiatives designed to improve health and safety in the construction industry. Of course, little concerns them more than falls from height, which have been a major cause of injuries to B.C. construction workers for years.  More specifically, falls from ladders make up the largest proportion of falls at construction sites.

Because they know that proper planning, supervision, training, and use of fall protection can quite possibly reduce or eliminate the risk of falls at construction sites,  the people on the Industry and Labour Services Construction team have been working on a ladder safety initiative. At the heart of the campaign is the question, “Is this the right tool for the job?” The campaign hopes that workers will employ the risk assessment checklists and other resources that have created, in order to reduce the number of serious and even fatal injuries related to ladder use.

In addition to fall safety, the team is also focused on reducing the high rates of injury and disease for residential wood frame construction workers. Builders who apply for permits in most municipalities are made aware of the provincial residential builders alert initiative. That initiative offers tools with which they can honor their occupational health and safety responsibilities and issues all stages of the residential building process. Their hope is to expand that initiative to every municipality in B.C. in 2017. WorkSafeBC wants workers in the construction industry to know that they are committed to making that industry safer throughout British Columbia.

Changing Worker Attitudes

Monday, September 12th, 2016

Young workersAs part of a project to learn more about the attitudes of young workers in the province, recently the people at Safe Work Manitoba interviewed 40 young workers for jobs and secretly recorded them. What they found was frightening enough to move them to launch a campaign to change some attitudes. They found that many of these young workers were all too willing to put their own safety at risk for a bigger paycheque.

This is a serious problem, especially given that 5,000 young workers between under 24 years of age are injured on the job every year. That’s why Safe Work Manitoba has launched a campaign to try to change this mindset and cut that number significantly.

Some of the incidents and situations the young workers discussed were nothing short of frightening. In one interview, a young worker was asked if he thought he needed safety training and the worker replied that he didn’t and that he could “figure things out on my own.” That same worker recounted an incident in which several nails went through his foot at one point and he just poured saline water over it and bandaged it, without telling a supervisor about the incident. He also said, “As long as I’m being paid in the end and I can pay my bills, I’m happy.”

He wasn’t alone. Many other young workers in the project related their belief that reporting an injury would make them look bad and might get them fired, which demonstrates just how little some workers understand their rights as a worker.

The participants in the Safe Work Manitoba project who were secretly interviewed were given an honorarium and free job counselling and they were also given the chance to opt out of the campaign. The agency also assisted the participants in finding real interviews for real jobs.



Research Shows OHS Inspections Help

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

researcherA report published in a major journal concluded that workplace inspections by government agencies and the orders they write do serve as a motivator when it comes to encouraging employers to improve workplace safety standards in most workplaces.

The report, which was based on research conducted by the Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health (IWH) and promoted last week, was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine and involves a thorough examination of more than 40 previous studies on the relative effectiveness of enforcement of occupational health and safety regulations. One of the conclusions they made was that when a workplace safety inspector imposes an order on an employer for a workplace, the usual result is a safer workplace in the future. Conversely, when an inspector mentions a problem and doesn’t issue an order, there seems to be no impact.

The research also concluded that workplace safety campaigns do work to increase awareness and to help reduce the frequency of workplace accidents. In particular, they noted the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s campaign in recent years, which was geared to the construction industry,  to raise awareness of the risks of working at height. They suggested that the evidence showed that the campaign was very effective at increasing awareness among construction workers.

According to IWH, this research project was prompted by a longstanding debate over whether or not government workplace safety efforts are even effective. Their research included previous studies going back to 1990 and what they found was that, over time, occupational safety campaigns and agencies do have a positive effect. Researchers concluded that leaving occupational safety up to the companies themselves is not an option. In Ontario, for example, they found that the added expense of penalties for OHS violations did serve as a significant deterrent for further violations, but so were orders that did not include a penalty.

IWH noted that the importance of regulators in the field can’t be overstated. In Ontario alone, 350 Ministry of Labour inspectors conduct about 80,000 field visits every year, resulting in 140,000 orders. They determined that all orders were important because they serve to make more workplaces safer. No company wants to be seen in a negative light when it comes to workplace safety or anything else, so they do tend to respond to an order.

Is Social Media Part of the Workplace?

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

social mediaWhile many seemed to not notice, a recent Ontario labour arbitration award involving the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) should be raising concerns because it essentially considers social media to be part of an employee’s “workplace” when it comes to promises by an employer to protect workers from discrimination and harassment.

The issue involved some posts from customers and the public on the TTC Twitter account.  TTC had set up the account in February 2012 as a way to  respond to passengers’ questions and concerns by way of tweets. Because of this, the TTC  Twitter account to included exchanges between the company and the public and included public responses by TTC to customer complaints about alleged behaviour by its workers while on duty. Because of this, in April 2013, the union representing TTC workers filed a grievance against the TTC seeking a shutdown of the TTC Twitter account.

According to evidence presented during the arbitration hearing, as of late January 2015, the TTC Twitter account had around 16,000 followers and had posted more than 82,000 tweets, about 1,500 of which the union found problematic, in that they seemed to either breach workers’ privacy or affected their safety in the workplace.

According to the arbitrator, a combination of factors, including the Ontario Human Rights Code (HRC), the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) as well as portions of the relevant collective agreement, all TTC workers are entitled to a workplace free from discrimination and harassment. Because of the nature of the Twitter account, the arbitrator ruled that the account could be considered “part of the workplace for purposes of determining whether the HRC, the [collective] agreement, and TTC policies [were] contravened as a result of harassment.”

What that means is, employers who attempt to use social media accounts to connect with customers or the public at large should consider that social media platform to be part of the workplace, which means all workplace regulations will apply. That means the development of social media policies that are consistent and which the company and workers must all follow, for the safety of everyone.

Agency Stresses B.C. Road Safety

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

OSHA Investigating Pennsylvania Road Worker DeathWorkSafeBC’s Industry and Labour Services Transportation team is working hard to let everyone know that they are always trying to make the roads safer, and it seems to be working out well. Through their creation of several campaigns, such as the Road Safety at Work initiative and their Shift into Winter and Cone Zone campaigns, they can point to workplace injury rates are currently at historic lows. Just as importantly, they note that there is a greater awareness of road worker safety issues throughout the province than ever before, as well as greater awareness and practice of safe driving behaviours. When more people drive safely, road workers aren’t the only people who benefit; everyone does.

However, they realize there is still a lot more work to do. While the numbers are better than they used to be, during the ten-year period between 2006 and 2015 in British Columbia, a total of 14 roadside workers were killed and another 226 were injured and missed time from work due to being hit by a vehicle while working in a Cone Zone. WorkSafeBC realizes that those numbers have to drop until they are at zero.

They are working on other safety issues, as well. For example, they are also focused on efforts to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities from falls in the trucking industry by working with employers to increase safety awareness for truck drivers in every aspect of the job. For example, a current campaign is focused on the importance of maintaining three points of contact when entering or exiting the vehicle because that prevents fall injuries at one of the most dangerous parts of the workday for a trucker.

New OHS Rules in Ontario

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

WarningAs many are aware, Bill 132, which amends the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to redefine workplace harassment, became law on March 8, 2016, which means it is due to take effect very soon. In fact, Ontario employers should be aware that Sept. 8, 2016, is the day when they will have a lot more to deal with when it comes to making the workplace a safe space.

Bill 132 broadens the definition of workplace harassment to specifically include sexual harassment, but there is a lot more to it than that. The new law also requires that all employers implement policies and programs dealing with workplace harassment and that they investigate all incidents thoroughly.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has released guidance that is designed to assist employers wade through all of these new and sometimes complex obligations. This Code of Practice is made up of four parts that identify the measures employers may adopt to meet their OHSA  obligations with regard to workplace harassment.

It is not mandatory to adopt any or all parts of the Code of Practice and, in fact, some of the practices set out in the code go a little bit beyond the employer’s obligations under the OHSA. As the Ministry of Labour said in a statement, “The Code of Practice is just one way in which employers can meet the legal requirements regarding workplace harassment.”  It is, however, an excellent guideline. In addition, the Code of Practice provides employers with a template for a workplace harassment policy, program, and investigation plan. These could be very helpful, given that the new workplace harassment guidelines will essentially take effect on Sept. 8, 2016, which is next week.

Saskatchewan OHS Controversy?

Monday, August 29th, 2016

investigatorIt started when the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour released a statement in which they complained about a recent uptick in the number of workplace accidents recently, including two deaths this month alone, and they suggested that government cutbacks may be to blame. They claimed that, while the  workforce has grown significantly in the province in recent years, the number of inspectors has lagged behind somewhat. More specifically, they noted that the province had more than 50 workplace inspectors just two years ago, but they claim that the government’s website lists only 27 inspectors. For their part, the Saskatchewan government released their own statement on the subject. In it, they said that they currently have 55 inspectors in place, not 27. They also noted, quite pointedly, that the worker injury rate has dropped in recent years, from 9.87

However, in response, the Saskatchewan government released their own statement on the subject, in which they noted that they currently have 55 inspectors in place, not 27. They also noted, quite pointedly, that the worker injury rate has dropped in recent years, from 9.87 per cent in 2007 to 6.19 per cent in 2015.

In particular, the labour group points to several incidents this month in two locations to make their point. In one, a 27-year-old oilfield worker died at a site near Alameda. In the others, one worker was killed and another seriously injured in two separate incidents at a potash mine near Vanscoy. They also noted that only about 25 per cent of all inspections were random inspections, while most target employers with the worst injury rates. As the Federation of Labour sees things, that means 75 per cent of employers are notified and can correct any issue before OHS inspectors show up.

While ultimately, workplace safety is always the employer’s responsibility, but it is the government’s job to make sure employers are fulfilling their responsibility. This kind of “controversy” is good because it lets everyone know that someone is watching and that what they do makes a difference.

Saskatchewan Concerned Over Fall Safety

Friday, August 26th, 2016

investigatorIn Saskatchewan, safety officials are examining serious problems with fall safety at residential construction sites throughout the province. Their Occupational Health and Safety Division (OHS) took a look at the results of inspections conducted on such sites in 2015 and found a startling lack of compliance with OHS regulations.

For example, during two stepped up inspection campaigns last year, they only found 41 percent compliance with regulations regarding the covering of openings into which a worker could step or fall. When it came to providing barriers for open shafts, they found only 20 per cent  compliance. Only 48 per cent of sites were compliant with regarding the wearing of protective headgear, only 41 per cent used fall protection and only 50 percent of workers had even been trained with regard to an effective fall protection plan.

That’s why WorkSafe Saskatchewan is now engaged in a campaign to remind those contractors engaged in home building and renovation to pay closer attention to problems such as these. Based on the 2015 Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) Annual Report, construction trades helpers and labourers made 775 accepted claims, which was the fourth-highest number in the province.

That’s also why OHS will be stepping up inspections at residential construction sites for the rest of the summer and throughout the fall. They plan to focus on the most dangerous and pressing compliance issues in residential construction, including uncovered openings and failure to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and fall protection equipment. If your residential construction worksite isn’t up to standards, contractors can expect to be hit with fines and possibly even stop-work orders, so be prepared.