Getting ready for a health and safety inspection

By Kristan Wolfe
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/18/2005

No business owner or manager wants to see an employee get hurt in the workplace. But the reality is that on-the-job injuries and fatalities occur regularly, particularly at workplaces with consistently poor safety records.

According to Ontario’s Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB), there were more than 268,000 injury and occupational disease claims in the year ending Sept. 30, 2004, with 424 fatalities recorded during the same period.

In Ontario, companies that rack up an above average number of injury, disease or fatality claims for their particular industry can expect to be tagged for a health and safety audit under WSIB’s Workwell program. Following the initial audit, employers are given six months to implement any changes recommended by the auditor before a second audit is performed. Failing the second audit can result in fines up to $100,000 and up to six months in jail.

Other systems across Canada — such as the Certificate of Recognition program in Alberta — offer incentives to employers that draft their own regulations. A third party would be called in to audit the program to ensure it is in compliance with provincial laws, and if it is, that company may be rewarded with a five-per-cent rebate on its workers’ compensation rates. Other models are in place across the country, so employers need to be familiar with what is required in their provinces.

While the thought of going through a procedure like this can be intimidating for an employer, there are some common steps that can be taken to ensure legislative compliance and prove that your policies are effective, no matter where you are in Canada.

“Basically it comes down to one thing. Do you have a written health and safety program?” says Sandro Perruzza, manager of new markets for the Ontario Service Safety Alliance, the designated safe workplace association for Ontario’s service sector.

For employers that are developing such a program, Perruzza suggests the first step they could take is to contact their safe workplace association. These are associations set up with the aim of eliminating occupational injuries, illness and death by providing training programs, products and services to the employers and workers of the specific industries they serve.

Such associations understand what is required to meet provincial occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation and know the specific areas that are important in a workplace audit. Ontario’s Workwell audit system, for instance, employs an all-or-nothing marking scheme. So if the job site contains 12 first-aid kits but one is missing an inspection record, the organization will not earn points on that entire section of the audit. Too many of these missing pieces will result in a failed audit. In fact, less than one-quarter of employers pass the first time, according to Yvonne O’Reilly, owner of Toronto-based O’Reilly Health & Safety Consulting.

Second, find out which body is doing the audit and what the evaluator expects your program to entail. Is it a provincial health and safety inspector coming to visit under the occupational health and safety legislation? Is it someone from the workers’ compensation board auditing under their specific programs? Then, download a sample workplace inspection report from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (www.ccohs.ca) as well as a copy of your province’s core audit document, which is the template the evaluator will use to conduct the audit. Use those resources to conduct a practice or “mock” audit on the workplace.

“Take a look at that core audit document and see what’s in there and see what you do not have in your program that’s on that list, or what do you have on that list that’s not formally documented,” O’Reilly advises.

“The key thing with achieving due diligence is not only having an effective system to help prevent an occurrence, but ensuring that it’s effective.”

Often, employers will have an OHS program that has been drafted many years prior, and may not have been updated or checked to see if people still comply with the training.

“They haven’t written down any inspection reports. They haven’t retrained anybody. They’ve gone through a lot of time and expense to put people through that training and they expect them to retain that knowledge two, three or five years without ever having mentioned it to them again. That’s unrealistic.”

Employers may wish to form an OHS team, recommends Perruzza, and review things like what staff to involve in a health and safety committee, what budget to allocate to it and what resources — such as the safety manuals that come with equipment — are available on-site.

The OHS committee will be responsible for monitoring and enforcing internal compliance with applicable health and safety policies and the law.

Firms can order an occupational health and safety starter kit through many safety associations; a kit would contain items such as videos, guides and brochures to help get the health and safety program running.

Finally, create a “senior management commitment,” says Perruzza. A senior management commitment may consist of some of the following undertakings. The first is that health and safety is on the senior management agenda. The second is for senior management to play an active role in health and safety by doing trends analysis of injuries and illnesses in the workplace. And last, but not least, have a senior executive join the health and safety committee on an inspection about once or twice a year. Such a commitment provides “some sort of proof that senior management is actively managing the health and safety issues of the organization,” he adds.

Because some audits pay as much attention to actual workplace conditions as they do to the employer’s OHS documentation, employers must commit to building a “top-down and bottom-up” approach, says Perruzza.

Ontario’s WSIB evaluates on-site conditions by touring employers’ workplaces, examining health and safety programs, observing health and safety practices and interviewing employees. That means from senior managers down to the front-line staff, everyone needs to embrace the company’s OHS plan, says Perruzza.

“Employers need to bring their managers up to speed with what’s going on with health and safety.” This means reviewing an organization’s health and safety policies and ensuring that accountabilities are clearly set out across all levels of management. Supervisors need to be aware of their obligations and potential liabilities, and health and safety compliance factors should be incorporated into their job descriptions.

This is more important than ever before as OHS standards become more stringent. In March 2004, the Canadian Criminal Code was amended in accordance with Bill C-45 — a bill that defines who is responsible for the safety of persons in the workplace and allows for prosecution under charges of “criminal negligence” when those responsibilities are disregarded. As a consequence, anyone who is directing work or responsible for directing work can be held liable for a failure in the company’s OHS program, says O’Reilly.

Avoiding an audit by being proactive is a smart move for any employer or workplace supervisor to make, she adds, especially because not all inspections are announced to the employer ahead of time.

There are a plethora of OHS consultants out there to help decipher provincial legislation, determine the OHS needs of a given workplace and help institute safe work practices and programs.

Due diligence must be seen as more than a defence, warns O’Reilly, so employers need to have a corporate compliance program in place to target health and safety concerns.

Due diligence is a two-part job for employers, she adds. “Doing the written-down program and assessing what a hazard is and deciding what you’re going to do about it and training people — that’s only the first half,” O’Reilly says.

“A lot of people think, ‘By the time I train somebody, I’m done.’ But that, to me, is only half the formula. Monitoring is key. You’ve got to monitor, you’ve got to follow-up and yes, that means paperwork.”

Kristan Wolfe is a Bowmanville, Ont.-based freelance writer.

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