Safety is ultimately employer’s responsibility, not committee’s: Arbitrator

Joint health and safety committee had power to prescribe safety equipment but employer could still do so without committee’s recommendation

The health and safety of employees is ultimately the responsibility of the employer and can’t be delegated to a joint health and safety committee, an Ontario arbitrator has ruled.

Gerdau Ameristeel, a steel manufacturing company, introduced a policy in its Whitby, Ont., plant requiring employees to wear chin straps on their safety headgear. The union grieved the policy, noting that the collective agreement required Gerdau to take all reasonable precautions for the safety of employees — in line with health and safety legislation — and to provide all personal protective equipment prescribed by the joint health and safety committee. The union argued this gave the power to approve safety equipment to the joint committee, not the company.

The arbitrator found that the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act placed the main responsibility for employee health and safety with the employer, including the assigning of personal protective equipment. This legal responsibility did not diminish with the existence of a joint health and safety committee and a collective agreement allowing the committee to recommend safety equipment, said the arbitrator. If the employer didn’t have the ability to dictate equipment, then it would be susceptible to being charged and prosecuted for safety conditions over which it had no control.

The arbitrator ruled that Gerdau was entitled to prescribe personal protective equipment for employees, independent of the joint health and safety committee, regardless of the collective agreement provision giving the committee a say in prescribing equipment. The greivance was dimissed.

“Although I do not doubt this union’s commitment to the safety of its members, I do not believe that the employer can avoid its legal obligation, even when acting in good faith, to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker,” said the arbitrator.

For more information see:

Gerdau Ameristeel v. U.S.W., Local 6571, 2012 CarswellOnt 9066 (Ont. Arb. Bd.).

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